Workplace bullying: the silent epidemic

Apr 18, 2018

Bullying is a serious issue in workplaces across Australia, affecting not just people’s mental health but the everyday running of business as well.

A recent article by the ABC has asserted that Australia is facing a ‘silent epidemic’ of workplace bullying.

Focusing on the story of one worker who had been a victim of bullying in their workplace, the article emphasises the serious consequences bullying can have on mental health.

Workplace bullying is defined as repeated and unreasonable behaviour directed towards an employee, that creates a risk to health and safety. In an office setting however, this behaviour isn’t always obvious and can come across in the form of small, passive comments or actions that eventually develop into a problem.

"All the petty little snippy, snidey things built up and made my life miserable. Eventually it just crossed the line," the worker said.

Workplace bullying can affect people in many ways, including:

  • distress, anxiety, panic attacks or sleep disturbance
  • physical illness, such as muscular tension, headaches and digestive problems
  • reduced work performance
  • loss of self-esteem and feelings of isolation
  • depression and an increased risk of suicide.

Professor Gary Martin, CEO of the Australian Institute of Management, hears stories of workplace bullying daily, and believes it happens in workplaces across all sectors but isn’t talked about nearly as much as it should.

"People don't want to talk it up because they fear for their jobs and even if you are bullied, you grin and bear it because you don't want to lose your job." 

Minimising or ignoring the problem doesn’t just hurt those involved however, but the whole business. The wider workplace also feels the effects through lost productivity, absenteeism, poor morale and time spent documenting, pursuing or defending claims.

So what can you do to help prevent or take a stand against bullying?

Tips for employees

Everyone has a role to play when it comes to spotting and calling out inappropriate behaviour. As an employee you can do this by:

  • supporting your workmates – check in with your colleagues and let them know you’re there to help
  • showing respect and courtesy – being respectful of others helps create a more positive environment
  • speaking up against bullying (if you feel comfortable) – pull up anyone being disrespectful in the workplace
  • acting appropriately – understand your organisation’s expectations and lead by example.

If you are being bullied or have witnessed bullying in your workplace, there are many steps you can take to resolve the situation. See our bullying information for employees page for more details.

Tips for managers

The most effective way to stamp out bullying is to stop it before it starts. This means creating a strong, consistent approach to prevent inappropriate behaviour from escalating, and a positive, respectful work culture where bullying is not tolerated. You can help by:

  • being alert – look for risks and signs of bullying such as increased absences or low staff morale
  • identifying and acting on bullying early – respond quickly and effectively to show bullying isn’t tolerated
  • managing workplace stress – ensure your employees understand their roles and have the appropriate skills to do their job to reduce issues that could lead to bullying
  • seeking training and development – look for ways you can develop productive, respectful workplace relationships in your role.

For more information on what to do if you have witnessed or been accused of bullying, see our information for managers or employers.

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