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This project, funded by a SafeWork SA Commissioned Research Grant (CRG), is innovative in creating an evidence-based practical tool to assess the risk of workplace bullying before it occurs. The tool is based on the organisational risk contexts for workplace bullying.

Based on content analysis of 342 workplace bullying complaint files lodged with SafeWork SA (over 5,500 pages), our prior research revealed that perceptions of workplace bullying arise when supervisors (or other employees holding a coordinating role) perform 11 job activities (e.g., administering leave and entitlements; clarifying and defining job roles; appraising and rewarding performance). These job activities fall within three risk contexts for workplace bullying: (1) administrating and coordinating working hours; (2) managing work performance; and (3) shaping relationships and the work environment.
In the current project we conducted a series of studies to translate the three workplace bullying risk contexts into concrete, specific behavioural indicators that form the basis of a workplace bullying risk audit tool. Rather than diagnosing a problem with individual supervisors or managers, the indicators signify how job activities are typically performed within the work unit and, as such, serve as markers of the functioning of the organisational system in nine job activity domains. Within these domains, the actions of individuals (both supervisors and employees) contribute to the functioning of the system, shaped by relevant policies, procedures, and processes.

In the first stage of the project we generated additional information to guide the development of the risk audit tool. A total of 159 indicators were identified from supplementary analysis of the 342 workplace bullying complaints and through 44 critical incident interviews. Next, the indicators were validated by retranslating them into the job activity domains and rating each indicator in terms of effectiveness. The end point from this series of studies was a behaviourally anchored risk audit tool, presented in graphical format, comprised of 75 indicators in nine job activity domains.

In the second stage of the project, the risk audit tool was evaluated in terms of outcomes (i.e., its predictive capacity) and useability. The outcome evaluation was conducted with 25 hospital teams (primarily clinical wards) to assess the effectiveness of the workplace bullying risk audit tool as a predictor of bullying exposure and examine other indicators of the validity and reliability of the tool. Based on responses from 212 participants, the results of multi-level modelling show that the risk audit tool can predict concurrent exposure to bullying, beyond six work and organisational characteristics established as risk factors for bullying within the scholarly evidence base (i.e., role clarity, role conflict, role overload, work constraints, job autonomy, and organisational fairness). We also demonstrated that the risk audit tool can discriminate amongst hospital work units that are rated – based on independent criteria – as high, medium, and low risk for bullying, violence, threating behaviour, absenteeism, patient safety incidents, and staff safety incidents.

In the process evaluation with end-users, the tool was trialled within eight organisations. Five end-users participated in an interview to provide feedback on the tool. The interview data revealed that the risk audit tool serves dual purposes. The tool can be used to: (1) identify areas for improvement in organisational functioning before bullying occurs, as a prevention strategy; and (2) collect information in relation to individual cases to locate points of intervention after bullying has occurred, as an intervention strategy. The concrete and specific indicators, representing both effective and ineffective functioning in each job activity domain, were seen as particularly valuable by end-users. Recommendations from the end-user participants regarding the content, design, and presentation of the risk audit tool provide future research directions.

Overall, the findings of this CRG Project reveal:

  • Predictive evidence of the workplace bullying risk audit tool in predicting concurrent workplace bullying, beyond the most dominantly-studied work and organisational risk factors;
  • Discriminant evidence of the tool in discriminating among clusters of teams with high, medium and low risks on a range of work health and safety measures;
  • The appropriateness of the tool to be used at team or work unit level, rated by multiple team members;
  • Positive feedback from end-users on the applications of the tool and its relevance, appropriateness, and distinctiveness.
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