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Show and Ask App Tackles Workplace Bullying

22 May 2017 at 8:39 am
Wendy Williams
A new smartphone app is being developed to help tackle workplace bullying and equip employees with expert assistance at the touch of a button.

Wendy Williams | 22 May 2017 at 8:39 am


Show and Ask App Tackles Workplace Bullying
22 May 2017 at 8:39 am

A new smartphone app is being developed to help tackle workplace bullying and equip employees with expert assistance at the touch of a button.

The Fairness Toolkit, which is centered on a “show and ask” diagnostic method, enables individuals to identify problematic workplace situations quickly and accurately without the need to refer to complex law and policy.

Once the workplace situation is diagnosed, a training mode assists individuals to develop their skills and knowledge in the relevant law and policy, codes of conduct, professional standards and community values.

According to The Ethicos Group, which is behind the latest app, workplace bullying and sexual harassment costs the Australian economy more than $20 billion each year, and involves about half of all workers.

Ethicos principal Howard Whitton told Pro Bono News it was a problem worth solving.

“[Bullying costs] the Australian economy over $20 billion a year in lost productivity alone. That doesn’t count the downstream costs of damaged people or legal processes, healthcare services, compensation and ultimately pensions, or financial support of people who are damaged so badly they can’t work again,” Whitton said.

“We thought that that is a problem that is worth dealing with and it is a problem that most people can’t deal with because they don’t want to go to their own employer to ask to make it stop or to ask for advice on what they can do.

“They don’t trust HR because HR plays favourites or it leaks or its not competent or it just wants to hush the thing, so we thought that that was a problem which private timely advice on a smartphone could address very effectively.

“We all put our heads together and said: ‘Well, we can put content into a smartphone based app which pretty much no matter where you are coming from, you will find useful if you are dealing with bullying in some way, whether you are a manager or a victim or a parent of a victim’. So that’s where we came from.”

Whitton, a former teacher, developed the original show and ask methodology for use in what became a national project for teaching professional ethics and the Code of Conduct to Australian public servants.

He said the app built on that methodology and acted as a personal tool for identifying a situation and helping people to decide “what they should do about it, if anything”.

“It goes back to an idea which we had a couple of years ago when we realised that a lot of individuals don’t recognise the problematic behaviour that’s going on in the workplace around them and they don’t know whether it is bullying or not and they certainly don’t know how to respond to it,” Whitton said.

“In short, it is a diagnostic tool that produces a series of very short videos showing examples of workplace bullying and that asks the question: ‘Is this what’s happening to you or someone that you know?’” Whitton said.

“And if it is, then it takes the user to a website or internally to the app, it depends on how it is done, to get further advice and it might say: ‘Well that’s not actually bullying, that is reasonable management action under the Fair Work Act, your boss is quite reasonable in doing what he or she is doing’. On the other hand it might say: ‘This is bullying and here are some options’.

“Everything from doing nothing but making notes in case it blows up later or it continues, to calling the cops if it is assault or a sexual assault in particular, or talking to someone like beyondblue about the results of bullying which often lead to depression and so forth.”


Whitton said the tool could also be used by people who were concerned about their spouse or their son or daughter in an abusive workplace.

“Think of the Brodie Panlock case in the coffee shop in Melbourne where the parents were unaware of what was going on and Brodie was keeping it all to herself, and ultimately committed suicide,” he said.

“We thought it was worthwhile, putting a personal version together, which individuals could consult for advice in a private way, in real time, to get some help with understanding whether what was going on around them or around their spouse or child in their workplace was ok or not.”

Whitton said they were looking for a partner or sponsor to help identify what sorts of conduct needed to be addressed through the animations and who the major targets should be.

“[For example] women whose first language is not English and who are working in the hospitality industry or the health services industries, they are typically large populations of people who get adverse treatment and we’d like to be able to focus better on those and their needs,” he said.

“Bullying takes many forms. Sexual harassment takes many forms. Misconduct of various kinds on the part of the employer, for example underpayment, takes many forms.

“But a lot of people actually decide they don’t want to confront it, they prefer to move away and get another job somewhere else. This is a particular problem in the country where jobs are scarce and lots of women report that they just have to put up with it, whatever the conduct is… because there is no prospect of moving away to another job. So that’s what we’re focusing on.”

Whitton said the app had a lot of potential to expand.

“We see this as applicable to kids who are still at school or young university students who are still working in the hospitality industry or wherever, and who are savvy with online stuff and technology, like smartphones. We have done some work on surveying this, for those who it is a natural thing to go to their smartphone to seek advice or help,” he said.

“We could expand the thing horizontally to deal with different kinds of workplace; service stations and hospitals and aged care facilities, elder abuse, are all very different, and they would need a specific app for their context, and then vertically we can expand it to deal with different kinds of abuse, so there is no limit.”

Wendy Williams  |  Editor  |  @WendyAnWilliams

Wendy Williams is a journalist specialising in the not-for-profit sector and broader social economy. She has been the editor of Pro Bono News since 2018.

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