Murdoch researcher to study bullying in volunteer settings

January 31, 2018

Volunteer bullying: first comprehensive Australasian study launched

Murdoch researcher Dr Megan Paull has launched the first comprehensive Australasian investigation into bullying in volunteer settings.

Dr Paull from the School of Business and Governance aims to increase understanding of the type of bullying behaviour that occurs in a bid to boost dignity and respect in volunteer settings.

She has teamed up with Massey University in New Zealand and Perth’s Edith Cowan University, with support from volunteer peak bodies in Australia and across the Tasman, to conduct an online survey inviting people to relate their experiences – good and bad.  The research is not measuring the extent of bullying.

“Bullying exists in volunteer settings, just like it does in all workplaces,” Dr Paull said.

“We want to understand the big picture to help individuals and organisations recognise when bullying occurs and to know what to do should they encounter it.”

Research findings will be used to help organisations create a positive workplace culture, help bullies to understand and change their behaviour and to equip witnesses to bullying with skills to divert the problem behaviour before it escalates.

“As an independent researcher you can shed light into corners that people don’t want to look, or don’t want to see what is there,” Dr Paull said.

More than 6 million Australians formally volunteer their time each year, most of them participating at least once a month.

Australia’s Fair Work Act – legislation which covers employee/employer relationships – ­recognises the role of volunteers and has included volunteers in the clause that regulates bullying.

“We know from earlier work that volunteers bully and volunteers get bullied, although we also know that many volunteers never encounter bullying in their volunteer activities,” Dr Paull said.

“Many Australian organisations rely upon volunteers to some degree and they can be in a position of power within the structure, for examples as a board member or filling a job which is essential to the functioning of the organisation.”

According to Dr Paull, the nature of volunteering is evolving as the nature of paid work is changing. Increasing in popularity are: microvolunteering – mostly online tasks that take between a few minutes and a few hours; pop-up volunteering – short projects that don’t require a commitment; and leisure volunteering which allows people to combine helping out while doing something they enjoy.

The online survey is available here.



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