October 5, 2022
Bullying In The Workplace
October is National Safe Work Month. National Safe Work Month is an initiative started by Safe Work Australia and it runs for the whole month of October. Safe Work Australia started this initiative to try and bring awareness to workplace health and safety issues including mental health issues such as workplace bullying.
We’ve all had a boss we didn’t like, or perhaps a co-worker who made our lives miserable.
But was it workplace bullying or harassment?
Where is the line in the workplace between disciplinary action and abuse?
What is workplace bullying? How does it affect the employee? And how can we prevent it?
What is workplace bullying?
Workplace bullying is the verbal, physical or psychological abuse of an employee, intern or volunteer by another person they are working with.
Workplace bullying can happen to volunteers, interns, casual, part-time and full-time employees, apprentices, trainees or managers. And the bullying can be perpetrated by fellow employees, managers, a single person or a group of people that they work with.
Workplace bullying happens across all industries including schools, offices, the arts, hospitality, retail and everything in between.
What does bullying in the workplace look like?
When discussing what workplace bullying is, we need to remember what it’s not. It’s not having your performance reviewed, or being trained or retrained. It’s not being transferred, demoted or sacked, provided the employer is acting reasonably.
In the workplace, bullying can look like:
- Hurtful remarks or attacks on your work or on your identify ie; sexual preference, gender, race, culture or background.
- Sexual harassment, such as inappropriate touching, sexually explicit language or requests.
- Keeping you from working with people or taking part in work-related activities, such as not inviting you to workplace morning teas or parties.
- Psychological harassment such as intimidation, playing mind games like giving you pointless tasks that have nothing to do with your job and ganging up on you.
- Assigning impossible tasks that either can’t be finished in the time allotted or without resources they don’t provide.
- Withholding important information required for your job.
- Changing your work hours to make it difficult or deliberately scheduling work meetings that you can’t attend.
- Initiating or hazing you – forcing you to do humiliating or inappropriate things in order to become a part of the team.
- Verbal abuse such swearing, shouting or threatening language.
- Physical abuse like pushing, shoving, hitting, tripping or grabbing you.
- Violence such as attacking or threatening you with equipment or weapons.
How does bullying affect the workload and the employee?
Bullying has a negative impact on your confidence, productivity and general mental health. The ongoing pressure of workplace bullying can lead to:
- Anxiety about attending work
- Loss of self esteem
- Difficulty making decisions
- Loss of productivity
- Inability to concentrate
- In some extreme cases there can be physical manifestations such as nausea, headaches and body aches
What are the signs someone is being bullied at work?
Workplace bullying can be subtle or overt. When it’s overt, it’s easier to spot. Overt workplace bullying is obvious. It’s verbal abuse, shouting, swearing, getting physical with employees, throwing things, threatening etc.
But subtle workplace bullying can look like an employee always being singled out, their ideas never being taken on board, gaslighting of that employee, excluding them from meetings and work events.
An employee who is being bullied might withdraw socially at work, always seem down, always appear anxious at work, talk about fearing a particular manager or other worker who is the perpetrator.
What should you do if you’re being bullied?
If you’re being bullied in the workplace, remember there are ways to get help and you have the right to a safe work environment.
Figure out whether this is just bullying or bullying and discrimination. Is the person bullying you weaponising your cultural identity, gender or sexuality? If they are, it may be bullying and discrimination. If the bullying is connected to your sexual orientation, gender identity, age, sex, religion, race or disability, this is discrimination, and you are protected under law. To get more information on discrimination laws in Australia you can check out the human rights commission page here.
The first steps you can take are to learn your rights and find out what the procedure is for workplace bullying in your workplace. You can also check with your union.
Then, you should document all instances of workplace bullying. Keep a record of everything you can as this will help if you make a complaint.
Get support either from a trusted person at work like the HR manager, or the union representative or even a friend. Talk it through and try to not have to deal with the bully alone.
Take the steps to solve the issue at work. Tell the HR manager, start the process for reporting the bullying at work and working towards a solution.
If it doesn’t improve after this you can explore other options outside of the workplace, such as making a report to Safe Work Australia or finding help through your union.
What can we do to support someone being bullied?
If it appears someone is experiencing workplace bullying, offering your support to them personally can open the door to helping them.
Standing up against other colleagues whose behaviour constitutes bullying is important for setting a standard at work and holding people accountable.
The Human Rights commission has a supportive bystander fact sheet you can check out for more tips.
How can we prevent workplace bullying?
Education and clear leadership from the top down can help to prevent workplace bullying. Having policies and procedures in place for reporting bullying and mediating staff issues, seeking regular feedback from staff and watching for changes in staff behaviour and dynamics can all help to prevent workplace bullying.
Safe Work Australia has a fantastic free resource for preventing and responding to workplace bullying. You can check it out here.
Workplace bullying is a serious issue for staff and employers. Employers have a responsibility to create a safe and harm-free environment for their employees. If you want to learn more about how you can help to prevent it, you can check out the safe work page here.