Luka Kauzlaric

Public servants being bullied online: study

CYBER bullying is not just affecting Australia's children, it is also hitting the ranks of the nation's public servants, a series of new studies has found.

During the Queensland University of Technology studies 600 public servants around the country were asked about the prevalence of cyber bullying in their workplace and its effects.

Up to 72% of the workers had either experienced cyber bullying or online harassment themselves, or reported seeing cyber bullying at work in the previous six months.

The findings appear to have revealed a bigger problem than that documented in the Australian Public Service Commission's State of the Service report for 2014-15.

That report, covering only the federal government, found 17% of public servants reported being bullied or harassed in the past year, a figure at the higher end of the average 15-18% levels over the past decade.

QUT researcher Dr Felicity Lawrence said her research was the first to study cyber bullying and its impact on Australia's public service around the country.

She said traditional workplace bullying already cost the nation about $36 billion a year, "so the cost of cyber bullying on productivity could be profound".

The studies also showed some 74% of public servants found their workplace "highly stressful" and more than half believed their department's anti-bullying strategies were "ineffective".

Almost half of those surveyed also reported a negative impact on their work performance and productivity because of cyber bullying.

"The public servants I surveyed indicated that there's a kind of 'cyber underground' that has created a hidden, negative, online workplace culture where some employees feel they are free to harass and bully one another and yet remain unaccountable for their behaviour," Dr Lawrence said.

She said the findings could have big impacts on government employers under their "duty of care obligations" in the Work Health Safety Act.

Dr Lawrence said one solution might be federal "anti-cyber bullying" laws covering not just the public service, but all workplaces.

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