Workplace Bullying – the impact beyond the workplace

Most people might not agree with the phenomenon of workplace bullying or the fact that it actually exists but the truth is that it not only exists but it also results in creation of an unhealthy environment in the office, factory, warehouse – any workspace. In literal terms, bullying is usually seen as acts or verbal comments that could possibly mentally hurt or isolate a person in the workplace. Sometimes these acts could also involve physical assault such as hitting, tripping, pushing, slapping, spitting or in worst case scenarios, stealing or destroying possessions of the other i.e. deleting someone’s important work files from their computers in their absence etc.

Workplace bullying is when your boss or coworkers assert power on you through aggression, which results in you feeling intimidated, offended, degraded or humiliated. Verbal bullying is more likely to take place in workplace related situations, such actions include spreading malicious rumours or gossip to portray a negative image about an employee, excluding or isolating someone from social gatherings happening inside the office, withholding necessary information or purposely giving the wrong information to an employee to restrict him/her from giving the required output to the boss, belittling a person’s opinion during office meetings or presentations, etc.

Workplace bullying definitely exists but it often becomes difficult to draw a line between strong management and bullying. Comments or demands that are objective and intended to provide constructive feedback or improve employee performance, do not come under the definition of bullying, but are instead intended to improve organisations internal working conditions and overall output.

Workplace bullying heavily impacts a person and their working capacity, not just inside but also outside the organisation. Inside the organisation, an employee who is a victim of constant workplace bullying might end up taking a lot of days off from work or stay extremely stressed, which in turn affects the organisation because that person will become less productive. There might be instances where the victim becomes so depressed that he/she would have to get some treatment or enrol in an assistance program, for which the company will have to bear the cost. Apart from that, the victim will continuously have a decreased morale and lower motivation level which will definitely affect the current standing of the company, in a negative sense. There is a high chance that the victim stops performing his/her duties well, even when it comes to interacting with corporates from different organisations or the general customers of the company, which then results in reduced corporate standing and decreased customer confidence.

But the impact of workplace bullying is not just restricted to within the organisation, it also affects an individual personally in his everyday life. Feelings of helplessness and frustration are highly likely to develop in a person because of the bullying he/she faces every day, which might make them depressed to the extent of harming themselves or taking their own life. The constant bullying may as well result in the victim putting that stress within their family life, resulting in fights with spouses to the extent of physical abuse and divorces. A victim might also become less confident about themselves and face the issue of low self-esteem because of which there is a possibility of them not being able to do tasks properly or concentrate on anything at all. Physical symptoms such as loss of appetite and health issues, and psychosomatic symptoms such as stomach pains and anxiety/panic can also be experienced by a victim or workplace bullying. 


What is and What is NOT workplace Bullying

  • Workplace bullying is repeated, unreasonable behaviour, directed towards a worker or a group of workers that creates a risk to health and safety. It includes both physical and psychological risks and abuse.
  • ‘Repeated behaviour’ refers to the persistent nature of the behaviour and can refer to a range or pattern of behaviours over a period of time (for example, verbal abuse, unreasonable criticism, isolation and subsequently being denied opportunities – ie a pattern is being established from a series of events).
  • ‘Unreasonable behaviour’ means behaviour that a reasonable person, having regard to all the circumstances, would expect to victimise, humiliate, undermine or threaten another person.

Managing staff does not constitute bullying, if it is done in a reasonable manner. Managers have the right, and are obliged to, manage their staff. This includes directing the way in which work is performed, undertaking performance reviews and providing feedback (even if negative) and disciplining and counselling staff. Examples of reasonable management practices include:

  • setting reasonable performance goals, standards and deadlines in consultation with workers and after considering their respective skills and experience
  • allocating work fairly
  • fairly rostering and allocating working hours
  • transferring a worker for legitimate and explained operational reasons
  • deciding not to select a worker for promotion, following a fair and documented process
  • informing a worker about unsatisfactory work performance in a constructive way and in accordance with any workplace policies or agreements
  • informing a worker about inappropriate behaviour in an objective and confidential way
  • implementing organisational changes or restructuring, and
  • performance management processes.

Bullying is a serious risk to the health and safety of workers. Under the relevant health and safety legislation (the “Legislation”) and associated regulations and codes of practice, the primary duty to eliminate or minimise, as far as reasonably practicable, the risks to health and safety (including psychological health) in the workplace is imposed on a person conducting a business or undertaking (“PCBU”). For the purposes of the Legislation, an employer is a PCBU and therefore bears the primary responsibility.

We have developed a policy to assist employers in meeting their legal obligations under the Legislation, associated regulations and codes of practice and thereby to eliminate or minimise bullying in the workplace. The policy provides that bullying will not be tolerated and presents mechanisms for disciplining those who engage in such behaviour in the workplace. In addition, the policy provides formal and informal mechanisms for dealing with any complaint relating to bullying.

At Fresh HR Insights we ensure that all workers are made aware of the policy, the standards that are expected of them and the consequences for breaching the policy. If you would like to discuss getting a workplace Bullying Policy in place please contacts us on 1300 332 322

Training sessions about the policy should (as a minimum) take place as part of the induction of new workers and in specific training sessions for existing workers. However, your workers should be reminded of the policy on a regular basis. This may involve conducting regular ‘refresher’ sessions at which workers are taken through the policy, sending out emails in relation to the policy and where it can be accessed, or using one of the other methods set out above.

Please note that the Legislation requires that as a PCBU, an employer must, as far as reasonably practicable, consult with its employees or others carrying out work, before making decisions on health and safety matters, including bullying. If there are health and safety representatives then they must be involved in the consultation process. Consultation must be carried out when developing policies and procedures relating to bullying, including complaint procedure. Consultation involves sharing information with workers and health and safety representatives, allowing then to express views and taking those views into account.