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Recognising and Addressing Workplace Bullying

By Sonya Buck, Australia



In our work lives, we may have witnessed or unfortunately experienced some type of workplace bullying or harrassment.


In fact, the Australian Psychological Society reports that 70% of the Australian workplace have been the victim of bullying at some point in their working experience.


These statistics are worrying and make it all the more important that if we see or are exposed to workplace bullying, that we do something about it. 


To take action, we need to recognise what can be considered bullying?


The more ‘overt’ type of workplace bullying will be easy to spot as it is quite public.  This may include:


  • Behaviour involving yelling, throwing things or physically hitting others
  • Belittling someone in front of others
  • Someone receiving a public ‘dressing down’ of their work performance


Bullying can also be ‘covert’ and this behaviour includes:


  • Spreading rumours about someone’s abilities or performance
  • Deliberately leaving one staff member out of team meetings or work functions
  • Making unreasonable demands of a chosen target
  • Giving instructions which are changed for no reason
  • Providing deadlines which are unreasonable and could never be achieved
  • Denying opportunities for training, promotion, interesting jobs or assignments


For someone who hasn’t seen or experienced bullying, this type of constant behaviour over time can affect someone’s self-esteem and can also lead to physical and mental health issues.


So what can you do?


As an employer:


  • Ensure you have an up to date bullying and harrassment policy in place and ensure all staff are familiar with the policy
  • developing a complaint handling and investigation procedure that establishes clear consequences for failing to comply with expectations of appropriate behaviour and follows due process
  • Nominate a bullying contact officer within the workplace and provide training for that role
  • Ensure all job descriptions are detailed and current


If you believe you are being bullied:


  • Talk to someone trusted. A close friend, relative or colleague may help you to decide whether what you are experiencing at work is bullying or whether it is just annoying behaviour that you will find in any workplace from time to time
  • Seek medical attention or other help. You may feel that you are not coping well with the situation you find yourself in
  • Make sure you're informed. Check the workplace bullying policy and complaints procedure.
  • If you are still unsure, or if you want some advice and support to deal with the situation, talk to the workplace bullying Contact Officer
  • Talk to your supervisor or Human Resources department
  • If you feel it is safe to do so, speak to the bully and let them know how you feel
  • Keep a diary. Documenting everything that happens, including what you've done to try stopping it. This can help if you make a complaint.


If you witness bullying behavior:


  • Follow your workplace bullying procedure
  • Write down the details of the mistreatment soon after you witness it.
  • Keep emails that include evidence of bullying
  • Reach out to the target privately. They may need your support
  • Support the target in group settings
  • Share what you know with HR or the bullying contact officer


If the bully is your boss and you feel you have no one to talk to or you believe your complaint has not been adequately handled by your employer, there are many organisations that can provide support and information.  Fair Work Australia - The Australian Human Rights Commission and Work safe bodies in each state are just a few to mention.


Remember: If bullying is violent or threatening it may be a criminal offense and you should contact the police immediately.