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Leaders responsible for action on workplace bullying

15 February 2023 at 9:23 am
Ruby Kraner-Tucci
Workplace bullying costs employers up to $36 billion each year and poor leadership is a major contributor, but a new book offers a solution.

Ruby Kraner-Tucci | 15 February 2023 at 9:23 am


Leaders responsible for action on workplace bullying
15 February 2023 at 9:23 am

Workplace bullying costs employers up to $36 billion each year and poor leadership is a major contributor, but a new book offers a solution.

Harassment is occurring at an alarming rate in Australian workplaces, and the for-purpose sector is not immune from its impact.

The Australian Human Rights Commission calculates workplace bullying costs employers up to $36 billion each year. A whopping 60 per cent of employees will experience bullying in their careers according to Bully Zero, and health and community service organisations are among those responsible for the highest number of complaints found the University of South Australia.

But while often assumed as an individual or interpersonal issue, workplace bullying causes wider consequences. Organisations themselves not only suffer as a result of harassment, with outcomes including decreased productivity, lower morale and higher staff turnover, they play a significant role in allowing these harmful behaviours to manifest.

Research from several sources including Beyond Blue suggests that broader environmental factors, such as poor organisational culture and lack of leadership, are among the main drivers of workplace bullying.

The Upstander Leader: How to Develop a Speak-Up Culture addresses this topic head-on, providing a practical guide for leaders to stamp out harassment and create positive and respectful workplaces.

See more: Who are Australia’s inclusive employers?

“We are in an era in which outrage agendas, division and selfishness have been considered to be more productive for success than kindness, empathy and understanding,” reads the opening pages of The Upstander Leader.

“Toxicity is a game with no winners… A workplace that actively promotes a positive culture and proactively handles bullying incidents is much better equipped to protect what matters the most – the staff and business reputation. Failing to address bullying costs money, wastes time and alienates employees.”

The book’s title is a direct nod to the well-known bystander effect and sets up its key aim – to transform leaders from being bystanders to ‘upstanders’ who are proactive about making positive change and standing up for their beliefs.

“Every leader can become a true upstander, whether by challenging negative stereotypes within their workplace, standing up to a toxic bully or championing cultural change. As a leader, you have the power to make choices that will shape history, your organisation’s culture and your leadership legacy,” continues the book’s introduction.

See more: New research puts charities in the “golden quadrant” of leadership

Bystander culture is initially discussed in The Upstander Leader, setting readers up for what is perhaps its most helpful offering, a solution to the problem: a detailed five-step model offering a roadmap to effective leadership.

Each chapter is peppered with exercises designed to reinforce the principles discussed, and encourage readers to reflect on their own practices and values. From challenging your unconscious biases and considering your ethics to assessing your physical work environment, the book acts as an interactive educational tool for leaders.

It’s not surprising given author Jessica Hickman is a speaker, coach and facilitator on this very topic, carrying over a decade experience in human resources and workplace health and safety, including founding anti-harassment training organisations Bullyology and the Upstand Academy.

See more: Helping manage workplace mental health

While many people, particularly those working in the for-purpose sector, are likely to be familiar with the ‘upstander’ concept, Hickman’s personal voice adds a refreshing update. In particular, she uses her own experience of being diagnosed with PTSD from relentless workplace bullying to ground some of the more technical aspects into a real-world context.

The result is an easy-to-read book with a lot of applicable takeaways, most of all, the critical need to stand up against bullying, and create kinder and more inclusive workplaces.

Ruby Kraner-Tucci  |  @ProBonoNews

Ruby Kraner-Tucci is a journalist, with a special interest in culture, community and social affairs. Reach her at

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