Online Anti-Bullying Courses Inadequate: Poor quality online courses nowhere near enough

Draft code calls for an integrated approach to preventing Workplace Bullying.

With Safe Work Australia’s draft Code of Practice – Preventing and Responding to Workplace Bullying due to be endorsed in early 2013, it is timely to look at your organisation’s strategy for preventing workplace bullying and the effectiveness of an online only approach.

Reading a policy is not training, nor are some online courses 

iHR Australia recently released its anti-bullying, harassment and discrimination training via its online production company, World Learning Hub ( As I researched the market of online providers and the approach taken by some organisations, I was astounded at how many were ‘hell bent’ on creating the shortest, most superficial interventions. Organisations are using ‘click and flick’ online learning or worse, simply sending out a policy and having staff sign to say they have read it. These approaches are often in the name of saving organisations time and money but they are missing the point. It makes little sense from an educational viewpoint because people’s long term behaviour is rarely influenced by a list of laws and expectations outlined on a slide. It also makes little sense from the perspective that the act of bullying is about behaviour and workplace culture. These points are supported by the campaigns run by the Transport Accident Commission (TAC) in Victoria. These campaigns focus on particular underlying behaviours and prevalent cultures the TAC have identified within a social and/or age demographic, they don’t just list laws and regulations related to road safety. Victorians may remember television advertisements featuring three 30 to 45 year old males sharing a drink with intermittent flashes of the impacts of drink driving: a mother picking up the sand shoes of her recently deceased daughter; a quadriplegic accident victim; a guilty driver being led from his cell. Powerful images indeed. Learning related to culture and behaviour needs to be focused upon generating an emotional response not passive rote.

Adult learning principles are essential to engage participants

If we look at contemporary adult learning principles, we can understand that most online training in the anti-bullying/discrimination space is not actually training. Most of it is briefing information and certainly hopeless in the context of changing behaviour. For example: an adult learning principle is that learning should be active; reading laws and case studies has little to do with getting people actively involved in an experience. Furthermore, most case studies focus on the punitive rather than emotional collateral of an incident. Another adult learning principle is to stimulate multiple senses throughout the experience. Most online training is great for digital learners and useless for visual or auditory learners. This is because the visual experience is entirely passive and requires no engagement or analysis and the majority of online courses have no auditory component. (See examples of engaging content on You Tube)

Twelve years ago iHR Australia began its highly successful approach to workplace bullying, harassment and discrimination training using actors and facilitators. We were totally aware of the challenges associated with adult learning. We needed an approach that embraced adult learning principles and raised the bar in terms of participant experience; an experience that got people to contemplate and analyse their own approach to work and the way they behave as well as giving them a clear understanding of what the legal system expected of Australian workers. Most of all, we needed to create an experience that didn’t lecture but encouraged people to think, change and reinforce appropriate workplace behaviours. It has worked well for us and these days we work with some of the great brands across Australia and Asia. Our challenge more recently has been how to bring the same engaging and comprehensive experience into the online training environment.

Training, however good, is not enough – you must take an integrated approach

The truth is that no online intervention could totally replicate the face to face experience, but we can, without doubt, make online training a worthwhile adult learning experience and a key component in an organisation’s overall integrated strategy to prevent workplace bullying. Since its inception, iHR has promoted and encouraged an integrated approach to preventing and responding to workplace bullying:

iHR Risk Mitigation Model

The federal government’s new Draft Code of Practice – Preventing and Responding to Workplace Bullying which, according to Safe Work Australia is expected to be endorsed in early 2013, backs iHR’s integrated approach with sections that mirror iHR’s model:

  • Identifying
  • Controlling
  • Responding

iHR recommends that organisations review their approach to preventing and responding to workplace bullying against the draft code. A copy of the code can be downloaded from iHR’s website by clicking here.

About the Code of Practice

The code of practice states;

An approved code of practice is a practical guide to achieving the standards of health, safety and welfare required under the WHS Act and the Work Health and Safety Regulations (the WHS Regulations).

A code of practice applies to anyone who has a duty of care in the circumstances described in the code. In most cases, following an approved code of practice would achieve compliance with the health and safety duties in the WHS Act, in relation to the subject matter of the code. Like regulations, codes of practice deal with particular issues and do not cover all hazards or risks which may arise. The health and safety duties require duty holders to consider all risks associated with work, not only those for which regulations and codes of practice exist.

Codes of practice are admissible in court proceedings under the WHS Act and Regulations. Courts may regard a code of practice as evidence of what is known about a hazard, risk or control and may rely on the code in determining what is reasonably practicable in the circumstances to which the code relates.

Compliance with the WHS Act and Regulations may be achieved by following another method, such as a technical or an industry standard, if it provides an equivalent or higher standard of work health and safety than the code.

An inspector may refer to an approved code of practice when issuing an improvement or prohibition notice.

A note on training

iHR recommends, at minimum, organisations should run training that;

  • Is tailored to meet the needs of particular worker groups. E.g:
  1. General Employees and Contractors
  2. Managers and Team Leaders
  3. Senior Managers and Executives
  • Be tailored to suit the work experience, gender, disability, ethnicity and/or levels of literacy of the group.
  • Includes Face-to-face training with facilitated role plays such as Workplace Reality Theatre, group work and opportunities to ask questions

As noted in the draft code, Face to Face Training can be supported with;

  • Online Training and assessment
  • Information sessions
  • Team meetings or toolbox talks
  • Newsletters, pamphlets
  • Payslip attachments
  • Posters
  • Intranet announcements, or
  • Email messages

The draft code states that:

All workers, managers and supervisors should be trained to recognise and deal with bullying as it occurs.

A training program should also cover: 

  • The workplace policy and procedures
  • How to comply with the policy
  • How to deal with bullying
  • How to report bullying
  • Measures used in the workplace to prevent bullying

In addition, iHR recommends that training focuses on the importance of workplace culture and the impact leaders have in setting this.

Not just compliance: culture impacts on brand, performance and retention

In recent times, it has been a great pleasure to take our training overseas with some global brands who’ve invited us to deliver to their workforces outside Australia. This training has taken place in countries which do not have Australia’s rigorous laws against workplace discrimination and bullying. To me, this illustrates that these leading brands are seeing beyond compliance and risk management to the impacts on brand, performance and staff retention that effective leadership behaviour and workplace culture have.

Back in Australia, a proactive and holistic approach demonstrates an organisation’s commitment to preventing and responding to workplace bullying; a commitment to the health, safety and wellbeing of its workforce.

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