Bullying, and claims of bullying can impact everyone in the workplace. It can start small, but if left unchecked can quickly escalate, eroding employee morale and productivity quicker than you think.

Managers must also be aware of their actions, especially when communication or work allocation crosses a line.

The Productivity Commission estimates workplace bullying costs the Australian economy over $6 billion every year. Untreated mental and physical health problems relating to workplace bullying can lead to absenteeism, presenteeism (when an employee is at work but is not productive) and workers compensation claims.

What is workplace bullying?

Bullying is repeated ‘unreasonable behaviour’ directed towards a worker or group of workers that presents a risk to health and safety. In most cases, the behaviour is persistent and happens over a period of time.

‘Unreasonable behaviour’ includes actions that victimise, humiliate, intimidate or threaten an individual.

So how does bullying start?

Bullying in the workplace can play out verbally, online or in writing.

It can be directed:
  • downwards – from a manager or supervisor to employees
  • sideways – between colleagues
  • upwards – from employees to a manager or supervisor 

Bullying in action

Bullying can be direct:
  • abusive, insulting or offensive language
  • spreading misinformation or malicious rumours
  • behaviour or language that frightens, humiliates, belittles or degrades
  • sharing offensive material  

And it can be indirect:
  • unreasonably overloading work or purposely not providing enough work
  • setting unreasonable timeframes, or constantly changing deadlines
  • deliberately setting tasks that are unreasonably below or above a person’s skill level
  • denying access to resources, workplace benefits and entitlements

Bullying is not:
  • reasonable managerial action or delegation
  • conflict at work
  • one-off incidents without malicious intent – e.g. being abrupt with someone while in the middle of something

Look for the signs

Signs of bullying in the workplace can include high turnover rates and an increase in absenteeism. It’s important to have clear workplace bullying policies in place and that your employee’s understand the repercussions if a report is made against them.

If you have any questions, please call the Workplace Advice Line on 13 29 59.