Bullying in the Workplace

Bullying is a disturbing problem that exists in groups of people. We hear stories from schools, workplaces and other organisations about malicious incidents that occur. Although bullying may not be obvious on the surface, as a manager it is your responsibility to ask the question, does it go on in my workplace? 

If the answer is yes, what are you doing about it? 

If the answer is no, what can you do to do prevent bullying in the workplace? 

The bottom line is that bullying can have a serious effect on the health and safety of individuals, reducing productivity and increasing staff turnover.   

According to a survey by WorkSafe Victoria, in November 2006 14% of respondents had been exposed to bullying in the workplace, yet not many cases are reported. 

Of the reported cases, Victorian workers compensation claims for bullying rose from 483 in 2000/01 to 739 in 2005/06. Whilst in dollar figures the number is relatively low, the increase in claims indicates employee attitudes to workplace bullying are changing and bullying is not to be tolerated any longer. 


What is Workplace Bullying?

While there is no standard definition of workplace bullying, Workcover NSW describes bullying in the workplace as; 


“Behaviour that is usually repeated, which is inappropriate, unreasonable and possibly aggressive and that creates a risk of physical and/or psychological harm” 

It includes actions that are considered unreasonable such as offensive, humiliating, intimidating, degrading or threatening behaviour. It also refers to repeated behaviour where by a pattern can be established from a series of events e.g. verbal abuse followed by isolation and subsequently, being unreasonably denied opportunities. 

Other examples of bullying in the workplace may include: 

  • Physical or verbal abuse;  
  • Yelling, screaming or offensive language;  
  • Excluding or isolating employees;  
  • Psychological harassment and intimidation;  
  • Assigning meaningless tasks unrelated to the job;  
  • Giving employees impossible jobs; and  
  • Undermining work performance by deliberately withholding information vital for effective work performance.  

Cost of Workplace Bullying

Bullying and its human effects can undermine business efficiency and increase a range of costs like long-term sick leave as well as staff turnover and the associated replacement costs. Some of the effects of workplace bullying on employers can include: 

  • Adverse publicity and poor public image;  
  • Increased absenteeism;  
  • High staff turnover and associated replacement costs;  
  • Poor morale, erosion of employee loyalty and commitment;  
  • Costs associated with counselling, employee assistance, mediation, re-training of new staff, workers’ compensation claims and rehabilitation; and  
  • Legal costs and time lost in preparing or attending court cases  

For individuals the costs of bullying can be extreme. That’s partly why employers are obliged to take this whole issue very seriously. There are a range of psychological and physical illnesses and injuries that can be caused by exposure to bullying in the workplace, including anxiety disorders, stress, depression and insomnia. 


What can I do about it?

Employers throughout Australia have legal responsibilities to do as much as is practicable to eliminate or reduce risks to employee health and safety. Similarly, employees also have legal responsibilities regarding how they act towards others within the workplace. 


Employers can reduce the likelihood of workplace violence by implementing effective prevention programs. These will reduce the possibility of violence as well as minimise the personal and organisational suffering caused.   Workcover NSW suggests adopting a simple risk management approach. Refer to www.workcover.nsw.gov.au for more information. 

Clearly, bullying can have a profound impact. Apart from the obvious human element, from a narrow business point of view alone, it is important for management to take it seriously. 

www.workcover.nsw.gov.au, Preventing and Dealing with Workplace Bullying