Sadly, workplace bullying in Australia is rife – globally, we have the dubious honour of sitting in third place behind France and Luxembourg. It’s a disappointing title to hold!

Definition of Bullying

What is the definition of workplace bullying?  Safework Australia has defined it as:

Repeated and unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker or a group of workers that creates a risk to health and safety.

So the behaviour needs to be persistent – not just a one off incident, and it needs to be considered unreasonable in regards to normal acceptable behaviour.  Not all behaviours that upset, or make people feel undervalued can be classified as workplace bullying. 

Bullying Behaviour

The types of things that may be considered to be bullying include:

  • Abusive, insulting or offensive language
  • Intimidating and aggressive conduct
  • Belittling or humiliating comments
  • Deliberate exclusion
  • Unreasonable deadlines and demands
  • Spreading misinformation or lies
  • Deliberately inconveniencing
  • Withholding information
  • Practical jokes and initiations

The behaviours range from overt and openly hostile to subtle and nuanced.  But if it is unreasonable and consistent then it can be deemed workplace bullying. 

The Effects of Workplace Bullying

Obviously, workplace bullying has a negative impact on the health and wellbeing of employees.  More often than not, it also damages the productivity of the workplace.  The physical and psychological effects of bullying often manifest as high blood pressure, stress and anxiety, panic attacks, rashes, headaches and mood and appetite changes. The longer the bullying goes on, the more likely it is to also affect co-workers.

But it is not just the individuals that are affected, workplace bullying causes disruption to the overall work environment and this in turn creates turmoil for an employer.  If often results in:

  • A hostile workplace
  • Reduced productivity
  • Continuous absenteeism
  • Increased workers compensation and legal claims

How to Manage Bullying

If you feel that you are being bullied, then it is important to take steps early.

  • Set boundaries – tell the person what they have done and that you won’t tolerate it.
  • Confront it – if it does happen again, then follow through and report it.
  • Keep track – maintain a diary of incidents including time, place and witnesses.
  • Report it – if it escalates from a one-off incident then you need to report it to a human resources manager.

If you are an employer, then you must confront and prevent workplace bullying by offering educational opportunities to your management team.  Striving to have a safe and productive workplace is in the best interests of everyone.

Legal Assistance

National laws to prevent bullying are managed under the Fair Work Act.  These laws only apply to certain workers.  These are:

  • Employees
  • Contractors or subcontractors
  • Outworkers
  • Apprentice or trainee
  • Intern
  • Work experience student
  • Some volunteers

If you are not covered by the definitions above, then each state and territory has its own legislation in place.  In Queensland, the Industrial Relations Act 2016 for example, provides protection to help people with bullying in the workplace.

You can get more detailed information from companies like MJSP Management Consulting who offer convenient online training modules that are designed to help understand and identify appropriate behaviour in the workplace.