Workplace Bullying – Is it happening in your organisation?


Bullying, it seems, does not only occur on school playgrounds. The workplace is increasingly becoming an environment in which bullying is rife; and as with cases at schools, incidences of bullying are often undetected, unreported, and remain unaddressed. In this article we look at bullying in the workplace and the steps you can take to prevent it.

What is workplace bullying?

Workplace bullying is “verbal, physical, social or psychological abuse by your employer (or manager), another person or group of people at work”1. It can happen in any kind of workplace, from the floors of retail stores through to the upper echelons of corporate organisations.

What does workplace bullying look like?

Detecting workplace bullying can be quite complex as bullying can be hard to discern. Some behaviours can be spotted more easily because they are deliberate and / or malicious. Examples of this include unwanted sexual attention, discrimination, threats or physical harassment. However, there are some incidences in which an employee is targeted by bullying behaviours which they may not recognise as bullying or they may accept without complaint2. These include:

  • Verbal hints or comments that you should quit your job
  • Excessive monitoring of your work
  • Being ignored or having a hostile reception when you approach
  • Information being withheld from you that affects your performance
  • Giving you jobs that are impossible to do within the given timeframe or resources provided
  • Excluding you or preventing you from working in activities or with others that are relevant to your work
  • Being made to do inappropriate or humiliating things to be accepted.What are the consequences of workplace bullying?Workplace bullying can have a serious physical, emotional and/or mental health impact on victims, including:
  • Increased levels of stress and anxiety
  • Lack of confidence
  • Lack of sleep
  • Severe mental anguish
  • Depression
  • In extreme cases, fatal consequences such as the recent case of Brodie Panlock’s suicide in Victoria.Within the workplace, it can lead to decreased engagement, decreased productivity, higher rates of absenteeism and sick leave, and higher numbers of forced resignations. It can also lead to the loss of reputation for a company through negative word-of-mouth and media coverage of bullying.Cases in which workplace bullying was brought to Court include:
  • In Bailey v Peakhurst Bowling & Recreation Club Ltd (2009), the court ordered the employer to pay the victim over $500,000 in damages plus costs for sustained harassment and bullying by her supervisor.
  • In the case of Worksafe Victoria v Ballarat Radio (2004) the perpetrator was convicted and fined $10,000 plus $1,700 in costs. The employer was fined; $25,000 for not providing a safe workplace, $25,000 for not providing instruction, training and supervision in relation to bullying, and was ordered to pay an additional $2,500 in legal costs.
  • In Brodie Panlock’s case mentioned above, her employer was fined $110,000 for breaches of the Victorian OHS Act which states employers have a duty of care to provide a safe working environment for employees.

With an estimated prevalence rate of a conservative 3.5% of all employees, the cost of bullying is between $6 billion and $13 billion per annum, taking into account the cost of absenteeism, staff turnover, legal and workers compensation costs, decreased productivity, and management time lost in addressing cases of bullying3, pointing to the significant financial consequences of workplace bullying to an organisation.

How do you know it’s happening?

While some employees are willing to file a complaint against workplace bullies, it is more often the case that due to intimidation, threats and/or harassment victims are unable or unwilling to report the perpetrators. Accordingly, a confidential staff survey is a good way to gather data on whether bullying is occurring in your workplace; and if so, where, how often and what type of bullying is happening. It can also provide a channel for victims to record what has happened to them anonymously if they choose to do so. The results of such a survey can inform and provide the basis for an action plan to prevent bullying in your workplace.

Workplace bullying is costly to ignore – for both the victim and the organisation. Take a pro-active measure to workplace bullying and get a survey running now to find out what’s really happening to your employees.

1. ReachOut website

2. Preventing Workplace Bullying, Dr Carlo Caponecchia and Dr Anne Wyatt, 2011

3. Workplace Bullying Issues Paper, Queensland Workplace Bullying Taskforce, September- 2001


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Alternatively contact Natalie McGarvey, Business Solutions Manager, on ph +61 2 9232 0172.


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