Would You Know If Bullying Was Occurring In Your Workplace?

How To Combat Workplace Bullying Part 2

I recently blogged about the fact that bullying is occurring in Australian workplaces and the negative impact that bullying has on the workplace. In my experience of helping clients deal with this issue, I am continually surprised to see that people rarely identify the word ‘bullying’ with their experience.

In instances where I identify that bullying behaviour is occurring, victims initially seem willing to complain and ‘vent’ about their experience but in the next breath they put themselves down and dismiss the perpetrator’s behaviour. Evelyn Field, author of “Bully Blocking at Work”, sheds light on this phenomenon by explaining that victims of bullying are often worn down emotionally and feel like they themselves are to blame; she likens the situation to the degradation of confidence and feeling of helplessness that women in abusive relationships experience.

Workplace bullying

Usually, bullying starts out subtly and builds over time. Victims generally tend to report that the behaviour has gotten steadily worse or has been going on for a long period of time.  Evelyn Field comments that many people are unable to admit that they are being bullied until an actual physical or psychological injury occurs; depending on an individual’s resilience they may endure years of distress until they finally break.

From a purely humanistic perspective it is appalling to think that anybody is experiencing bullying for any time, let alone such an extended time. However, working under an assumption that your business is in the business of making a profit, stop and consider what impact this could be having on your bottom line. Victims of bullying often report feeling de-motivated, miserable coming to work, incompetent and worthless.

We all know that unhappy staff are less productive, take more sick days, are more likely to commit fraud against the business and cost the business money to recruit and retrain new staff when they finally decide to leave.

Signs of a bully

So how do you know if you are dealing with a bully in your workplace? Keep an eye out for these signs that someone is a bully:

  • They distort truth and reality
  • They are defensive and will not respond to constructive criticism
  • You feel like you need to ‘walk on eggshells’ around them
  • You dread going to work and try to avoid them at all costs
  • You are afraid to open your mouth in front of them
  • They do not try to understand another’s side of the story
  • They take credit for others’ work and blame others when errors occur
  • They can be charming in public but are two-faced
  • They make inappropriate and insensitive comments about your appearance/lifestyle
  • They try to discredit you or make others disrespect you
  • They use abusive language and threats to intimidate you and erode your self confidence
  • They yell and scream at you
  • They suggest you are incompetent or too sensitive (i.e. you have the problem, not them!)
  • They threaten to terminate your employment
  • They demand you work to unreasonable expectations and timelines

The Workplace Health & Safety Act 1995 sets an obligation to employers to provide a safe working environment for all employees. If you are experiencing any one of these behaviours, consider addressing the issue sooner rather than later.

People often don’t address bullying as they think it will pass – the bad news is, statistically it is far more likely to get worse and you spend too much time at work to put up with it!

If you are an employer and you recognise any of the above signs in your workplace, you should act IMMEDIATELY (unless you don’t care that the value of your business is being eroded or have plenty of cash to pay out claims for the victims of bullying).

Here are some useful links on bullying – the last one is a YouTube video that includes interviews with three women bullied in the workplace:


In my next blog I am going to address some practical ways that both individuals and employers can respond to and stop bullying behaviour in the workplace.

In the meantime, what’s been your experience of workplace bullying, and how was it dealt with?

Kate Klease was a former executive at Vantage Human Capital, a specialist recruitment and human resources consulting firm that helps ensure clients have appropriate strategies in place to successfully retain, motivate and manage their people.


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