Workplace Bullying: A Silent Epidemic Affecting Employee Well-being and Productivity

Workplace Bullying: A Silent Epidemic Affecting Employee Well-being and Productivity

Workplace bullying, a pervasive issue often overlooked or unaddressed, is a silent epidemic with serious implications for employees’ mental health, productivity, and overall well-being. Despite efforts to foster inclusive and safe work environments, bullying persists, affecting individuals and organisations. In this article, I will delve deeper into the effects of workplace harassment and the crucial role management plays in creating a positive work culture. 

Impact on Mental Health: Workplace harassment and bullying have detrimental effects on employees’ mental health. Victims often experience stress, anxiety, and depression, leading to a decline in their overall well-being. The emotional turmoil caused by office bullying can also result in diminished self-esteem, decreased job satisfaction, and a reduced sense of belonging within the organisation.

The stress and anxiety caused by constant bullying can manifest in various ways, including sleep disturbances, irritability, and even physical symptoms like headaches and stomach aches. In extreme cases, workplace bullying can lead to the development of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other serious mental health conditions.

Decreased Productivity: Office bullying doesn’t just impact the victim; it also affects the overall productivity of the organisation. As victims become increasingly disengaged from their work, they may underperform, leading to missed deadlines and decreased output. This drop in productivity can cause financial loss for the company and have a negative impact on its reputation.

Workplace bullying can create a hostile work environment where other employees may feel uncomfortable, leading to a decrease in their productivity as well. This ripple effect can hinder teamwork, collaboration, and overall company performance. The consequences of office harassment extend beyond the individual and can permeate the entire organisation.

High Employee Turnover Rates: Workplace bullying is a primary factor contributing to high employee turnover rates. Workers who feel unsupported or unsafe in their work environment are more likely to leave, leading to a constant cycle of hiring and training new staff members. This high turnover rate can be costly for organisations and create an unstable work environment for remaining employees.

Besides the financial burden of hiring and training new staff, organisations also lose valuable knowledge, skills, and experience when employees leave due to bullying. This loss can further weaken the organisation’s performance and hinder its ability to compete in the market.

Legal and Reputational Risks: Workplace bullying may result in legal and reputational risks for organisations. Employees who are victims of workplace harassment can seek legal action against the company for failing to provide a safe work environment, leading to costly lawsuits and negative publicity.

Organisations found responsible for not addressing workplace bullying can face severe penalties, including fines and damages. The negative publicity associated with such cases can harm the company’s reputation and brand image, making it more challenging to attract and keep both clients and employees.

The Role of Management in Creating a Healthy Work Environment: Management plays a crucial role in addressing workplace bullying and fostering a positive work culture. When managers do not acknowledge or address the issue, they may inadvertently perpetuate a toxic work environment. Managers must create an inclusive and respectful workplace culture where employees feel valued and supported. This involves actively addressing incidents of bullying, providing resources and support for victims, and implementing clear anti-bullying policies.

Managers must lead by example, demonstrating respect and empathy towards their employees. They should also encourage open communication and provide a safe space for employees to report bullying incidents without fear of retaliation. Offering training on workplace bullying awareness and prevention for both managers and employees is another effective strategy for creating a more inclusive and respectful work environment.

Preventive Measures and Best Practices: Organisations can take various measures to prevent and address workplace bullying. These include:

  • Establishing a Clear Anti-Bullying Policy: Companies should develop and enforce a comprehensive anti-bullying policy that outlines the definition of workplace bullying, the consequences for those who engage in such behaviour, and the procedures for reporting incidents. This policy should be easily accessible and communicated to all employees.
  • Training and Education: Organisations should invest in regular training and education programs for both managers and employees on recognising, reporting, and preventing workplace bullying. These programs can help create awareness about the issue and equip employees with the tools they need to address and prevent bullying.
  • Encouraging Open Communication: Fostering a culture of open communication and transparency can help prevent workplace bullying. Managers should be approachable and available to listen to employees’ concerns and address them promptly. Regular team meetings can provide a platform for discussing and resolving any issues that may arise.
  • Supporting Victims of Bullying: Companies should offer support to employees who have been victims of workplace bullying. This may include providing access to counselling, mediation, or other appropriate resources to help them cope with the emotional and psychological impact of the harassment.
  • Monitoring and Evaluation: Regularly monitoring and evaluating the work environment can help identify potential bullying situations and ensure that anti-bullying policies are being effectively implemented. Anonymous employee surveys and feedback can provide valuable insights into the overall workplace climate and identify areas for improvement.

Conclusion: Workplace bullying is a silent epidemic with far-reaching consequences on employees’ mental health, productivity, and well-being. As organisations strive to create safe and inclusive work environments, it is crucial to recognise and address workplace harassment. By implementing effective preventive measures and fostering a positive work culture, companies can mitigate the negative impact of bullying on both individuals and the organisation, promoting a healthier and more productive work environment.

Trauma-Informed Interviewing: A Compassionate and Effective Approach

I have interviewed many people over the years. Complainants, offenders, and witnesses. You should prepare an interview plan to allow you to address key issues. What are you trying to discover? You sit down and ask the questions and expect the answers. But do we think enough about the person we are speaking to?

I recently interviewed a witness. It related to allegations of bullying. A relatively simple matter to investigate. Allegations made, witnesses present, evidence gathered, report written.

However, there is another side we, as investigators, must consider. The impact of the investigation on all parties. The witness broke down during the interview. Was this my fault? Did I fail to prepare properly? Did I fail to consider the “feelings” of the witness?

This led me to consider the need to adopt a compassionate and effective approach to trauma-informed interviewing.

I realised trauma-based interviewing is an approach to communication that recognises and respects the potential impact of trauma on an individual’s life.

It is a sensitive, empathetic, and supportive method to interview individuals who have experienced trauma, ensuring that they feel comfortable and safe while sharing their experiences. This technique not only helps the interviewee feel more at ease but also promotes more accurate and reliable information gathering.

Investigators need to think more about the person we are about to speak to. It does not matter whether they are the complainant, a witness, or the alleged offender.

We need to appreciate trauma is an emotional response to an event or series of events that a person perceives as physically or emotionally harmful. It can have lasting adverse effects on an individual’s mental, emotional, and physical well-being. The experience of trauma is subjective, and people react to and recover from traumatic events in different ways.

Investigators sometimes do not appreciate the emotions felt by persons we speak to. We plough on with the investigation, gathering evidence and getting ready for the next one. We should consider the fundamentals of trauma-informed interviewing.

Trauma-informed interviewing is based on the understanding that many individuals have experienced trauma in their lives. This approach allows for a more compassionate and effective dialogue, providing a safe space for the interviewee to share their story without re-traumatizing them. We do not know what feelings we may trigger as we speak to the parties.

I conducted some research to identify what I believe to be the key principles of trauma-based interviewing. These are:

Safety: Create a safe and welcoming environment for the interviewee. Ensure the space is free from distractions, noise, and potential triggers. Communicate the purpose and goals of the interview clearly and maintain confidentiality.

Empathy and Compassion: Approach the interview with genuine empathy and understanding. Listen actively, validate the interviewee’s feelings, and acknowledge their courage in sharing their experiences.

Choice and Control: Allow the interviewee to have control over the process. Give them the option to choose.

Explain the process: Make sure the interviewee knows what will happen. Do not provide false assurances (no one will find out, etc.).

Follow up: Where appropriate, follow up personally.  If not, speak to someone in the organisation to alert them to potential difficulties with the person because of the trauma of the incident.

If you need help, then contact me ([email protected] or

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Bullying in the Workplace

Bullying in the Workplace Anti Corruption Consultants Blog

Bullying in the Workplace – An In Depth Overview

Not so long ago bullying in the workplace was seen as a sport in some Australian work places. Employees were subjected to “pranks” disguised as initiation rites. These varied from physical abuse to mental abuse to ridiculing employees.

These pranks should no longer be tolerated! However, there is still a belief, in some areas, they are “only harmless fun”. The psychological harm will affect employees and your firm will suffer reputational damage when matters are reported in the media and you face a court.

The employer has an obligation to prevent bullying in the workplace. You must take reasonable care to ensure behaviour in the workplace does not adversely affect the health and safety of other persons.

The Australian Human Rights Commission claimed (2015) workplace bullying cost the Australian economy up to $36 billion each year. The average cost of each case amounting to $17,000-$24,000 for employers.

There are also substantial legal penalties under Occupational Health and Safety legislation across various jurisdictions.

Bullying has an indirect of profitability – it affects:

  • Higher absenteeism and turnover of staff
  • Lower morale
  • Decreased productivity
  • Legal and workers’ compensation claims
  • Costs of internal or external investigations
  • Loss of productivity my managers who have to address issues flowing from the behaviour.

What is Workplace Bullying?

Workplace Bullying ACCA

Workplace bullying is repeated and unreasonable behaviour towards a worker or group of workers. The conduct creates a risk to health and safety.

The behaviour must be repeated. This infers a “one-off” incident should be disregarded as it is not, according to the definition, “bullying”.

The conduct may be against a worker or a group of workers, The conduct must create a risk to health and safety.

While a single incident of unreasonable behaviour is not considered workplace bullying, it is important to take appropriate action if there are any instances of inappropriate or disrespectful behaviour. This action is required to prevent any escalation. A record must be kept of any intervention in such circumstances.

Role of the employer

The employer MUST provide a workplace that is safe and without risks to health. This requires the employer to provide and maintain appropriate work systems. This is reinforced by legislation across Australia.

The employer should know the potential for workplace bullying and implement the appropriate policies and training procedures to control the risk.

You should involve employees when developing policies. Legislation may require involvement of employees in workplace health and safety committees.

It is recognised prevention is the best way to prevent bullying in the workplace.

Preventive Measures

Developing a strong workplace culture

This is a significant factor in preventing bullying. A strong positive culture sets the standards and conduct in the workplace. While everyone in the workplace contributes to culture, management has a greater influence and responsibility to establish a positive culture in the workplace.

Setting standards and establishing agreed values.

Employers are obligated under Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) legislation to provide a safe workplace. They must, as far as reasonably practicable, ensure there are no risks to physical health and safety or psychological trauma.

Employers should clearly outline expected values and standards of behaviour to provide a safe environment. This can be in an agreed standard (code of conduct) or specific policies targeting bullying. Employees should, where appropriate, assist to develop these policies.

The acceptance of such policies will assist in reducing incidents of bullying.

Effective leadership

There must be a commitment at all managerial and supervisory levels to prevent and respond to workplace bullying.

Effective leadership will, by example and action, reduce the potential for workplace bullying. Leaders must train employees and lead by example.

Strong leadership is required when any incidents occur.

Workplace policies and procedures addressing bullying

Workplace Bullying - Harassment - Policies

Employers should consult with employees to develop and implement a workplace policy and procedure to address workplace bullying. This will ensure a consistent approach within the company to prevent and respond to any incidents of workplace bullying.

This policy would set the standards of expected behaviour in the workplace. It would also reinforce that bullying behaviour would not be tolerated.

Workplace bullying policy

The policy should take a guiding approach by outlining how everyone should behave and be treated at work. It should also incorporate a preventive approach clearly outlining what behaviour would not be tolerated.

The policy could be a standalone document or incorporated into the code of conduct.

The policy should be developed in conjunction with the employees using an Occupational Health & Safety committee approach where appropriate.

What should be in the policy

The policy should include:

  • A statement from management outlining a commitment to providing employees with a healthy and safe working environment.
  • Identification of the expected standard of behaviour from all employees.
  • Examples regarded as workplace bullying, and examples of appropriate managerial oversight.
  • If appropriate, address the various methods of communication that may be used including personal text messages, emails, and social media.
  • A section on how an employee can report incidents of workplace bullying with a reference to support programs to help the reporting parties.
  • A commitment from management to treat reports of workplace bullying seriously.
  • Information on how management would respond reports indicating impartiality and confidentiality where appropriate.
  • How reports would be investigated.
  • Highlight what action may be taken if the reports are substantiated.
  • Where employees can get more information about workplace bullying.

Promoting the Policy

The policy should be promoted and communicated all employees. This should include posters on notice boards, a regular topic on team meetings, advice on intranet pages, and regular discussion with employees.

All employees should receive a copy of the policy on induction. It should also be incorporated as a topic or specific training program at least every 12 months.

The policy should be regularly reviewed.

Encourage reporting

Employees will report instances of bullying if they are confident the organisation will address these reports in line with the bullying policy.

The policy and any promotional material clearly outlines the reporting structure. Employees should be assured the reports will be considered and treated as confidential where appropriate.

Employees should be encouraged to report any incidents as this would allow the employee to take urgent action to address any issues so they do not escalate. The employer can also determine whether their prevention methods are effective.

Reporting will also allow employers to provide prompt assistance and support to employees to mitigate any ongoing stress-related issues.


The employer should be transparent when addressing instances of workplace bullying. This may include advice to employees as to what action they took in relation to allegations workplace bullying. It is important to acknowledge the need for confidentiality when promoting this action.

General information can be provided as part of any regular communication process across the organisation. This information may include:

  • The number of reports received
  • The number of reports resolved
  • Time taken to complete investigations
  • Whether the investigation was conducted internally or externally
  • The general nature of the outcome of the investigations (be conscious of the need to maintain confidentiality where appropriate).

Training within the workplace

Workplace Bullying and Harassment Training

Occupational Health & Safety legislation highlights the responsibilities of an employer to provide information, instruction, training, and supervision to all employees to ensure they work in a way that is safe without risks to health.

This includes information relating to workplace bullying. It is important supervisors are fully aware of what comprises as workplace bullying and their obligations to address any identified issues within the workplace. You may be required as the employer to provide specific training in this area to all supervisors and managers.


Induction must include information about workplace bullying, including relevant policies and procedures.

Induction training should be provided to permanent employees, casuals, contractors, and volunteers. Labour hire personnel and visitors should know polices relating to bullying in the work place.


It is important training is provided to all employees. This training should be comprehensive with an emphasis on what comprises workplace bullying and what action should be taken if the employee witnesses the conduct or is a victim of workplace bullying.

The training should also emphasise the expected standards of behaviour in the workplace.

Supervisors/Managers should receive targeted training highlighting their responsibility to ensure a safe workplace. This training should include:

  • Role of communication – how to communicate with various parties
  • Managing the “difficult conversation” about workplace bullying
  • Providing formal and informal constructive feedback to all parties
  • Monitor and address potential issues leading to workplace bullying
  • Conflict resolution to address potential issues
  • What action to take if a report is made

Impact of Workplace Bullying

Workplace bullying can affect people in many ways. It can lead to:

  • 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
  • Deteriorating relationships with colleagues, family, and friends
  • Depression
  • Increased risk of suicide

Examples of workplace bullying

Workplace Harassment ACCA

Workplace bullying can include:

  • Abusive, insulting, or offensive language or comments (including belittling, demeaning, or patronising someone, especially in front of others)
  • Yelling or screaming at an employee
  • Unjustified or unreasonable criticism or complaints
  • Singling someone out and treating them differently from others
  • Withholding information, supervision, consultation, training, or resources deliberately to prevent someone doing their job
  • Setting unreasonable timelines or constantly changing deadlines
  • Spreading misinformation or malicious rumours
  • Changing work arrangements, such as rosters and leave, to deliberately inconvenience someone
  • Setting tasks unreasonably below or above someone’s skill level
  • Humiliating, shouting at or threatening someone
  • Excluding someone from participating in activities relating to their work
  • Refusal to acknowledge contributions and achievements (such as discovering that a person’s work – and the credit for it – has been stolen or plagiarised)
  • Initiation or hazing – where someone is made to do humiliating or inappropriate things
  • Teasing or playing practical jokes
  • Refusing annual leave, sick leave, and especially compassionate leave without reasonable grounds
  • Playing mind games, ganging up or other psychological harassment
  • Intimidation (making someone feel less important and undervalued)
  • Undermining work performance by deliberately withholding information vital for effective work performance
  • Constant unconstructive criticism and/or nit-picking
  • Suppression of ideas
  • Overloading a person with work or allowing insufficient time for completion and criticising the employees work in relation to this
  • Utilisation of various social media platforms and emails

It is important to realise any physical contact such as pushing, shoving, tripping, or grabbing is an assault. These actions should be taken seriously and, where appropriate, reported to the police so there is a record of the conduct.

The same applies to any threatening behaviour or physical contact with a weapon of any description including tools or other weapons (knives, guns, clubs). This must be reported to the police.

What is not considered workplace bullying

While some work practices may appear unfair they are not regarded as bullying if the conduct falls within accepted work practices and are done reasonably.  

The following are examples of what is not considered as bullying if conducted reasonably.

  • Setting realistic and achievable performance goals, standards, and deadlines
  • Fair and appropriate rostering and allocating working hours 
  • Transferring someone to another area of the organisation/business or role for operational reasons
  • Deciding not to select a worker for promotion where a reasonable process is followed
  • Informing a person about their unsatisfactory work performance in an honest, fair, and constructive way
  • Informing someone of their unreasonable behaviour in an objective and confidential way
  • Implementing organisational changes or restructuring
  • Taking disciplinary action, including suspension, or terminating employment where appropriate or justified in the circumstances.

What can increase the risk of bullying in the workplace?

These factors can increase the potential for bullying in the workplace.

Work stressors

High job demands, limited job control, organisational change, role conflict, job insecurity, tolerating unreasonable behaviour or a lack of behavioural standards, unreasonable expectations of clients or customers.

These can lead to frustrations within the general workforce and management.

Leadership styles

An authoritarian leadership style does not allow for employee interaction. It is a “damn it – do it” approach with no guidance or advice.

The is a lack of formal delegation leading to more assertive employees taking an inappropriate oversight role.

Work systems

Inappropriate workplace practices, lack of resources or training can create stress in the workplace. Unreasonable key performance standards, unrealistic expectations or time frames will also lead to stress in the workplace.

The stress leads to issues on the floor resulting in bullying as a potential outlet to reduce it.

Work relationships

Relationship between employees is also a key factor. Poor communication between management and employees, and employees themselves is also another factor. Low levels of managerial support opens the door for bullying. Ongoing conflict will also lead to bullying.

Workforce personnel

Research highlights some employees are more at risk from workplace bullying. These include, but not necessarily limited, to apprentices, casual employees, younger employees, injured employees, or those returning to work after an injury.

Employees who lodged a complaint are also likely to be targeted on return to work.

Bullying is also associated with ethnicity, religion, gender, disability, or sexual preferences.

What should I do if I am bullied at work?

You need a record of what occurred. This is important if the matter is going to be followed up.

The record should include such details as:

  • Date and time of incident
  • What happened before the incident?
  • Details of the incident
    • What happened
    • Who was involved
    • What was said
    • Who said anything
  • Any witnesses
  • What occurred after the incident?
  • Where did the incident occur?
  • Was there any CCTV coverage?
  • Was there any damage to clothing?
    • If so, keep the clothing after the incident if possible. If not, photograph damage.
  • Were you injured in anyway (cuts, bruises)
    • Photographs where possible
    • If you had medical treatment then keep details of where and when treatment occurred. Who provided the treatment.
  • Note your feelings flowing from the incident
    • Were you upset?
      • If so – why?
    • Were you embarrassed?
      • If so – why?
  • Why do you believe the conduct was bullying.
  • You need to tell someone what happened. There may be a contact listed under occupational health and safety procedures.
  • If you are a member of the Union then consider speaking with your delegate.

Remember, bullying is repeated behaviour. Your records will support the repetition of the conduct.

The employer must provide you with a safe work environment free of bullying and harassment. If the firm takes no action then it would be appropriate to refer your complaint to the Union if you are a member.

Remember, if you believe you are in immediate danger then, if possible, leave the workplace. You should (if appropriate) ring 000 for police assistance.

If you believe the incident was serious and you feared for your safety then report the incident to the police. Conduct leading to you fearing for your safety may be assault. Police will take the appropriate action.


The onus is on management to ensure there is an effective policy and procedure to address workplace bullying. However, eliminating workplace bullying requires action from everyone in the workplace.

Employees must be courageous in addressing this issue. Bullies will sidestep preventive measures. They will also use more subtle ways to target people. Gradual ostracization or exclusion can erode the confidence of a person. The “pain” of this is not visible like a bruise or cut but it can eat away at the victim.

Bullies use social media and other subtle methods to target victims. A bully is normally an informal leader, others see his actions as non-harmful, just a “joke”. Get over it, it is all in fun and other comments lead to a further erosion of self confidence in the victim.

A failure to report incidents leads to an escalation as the bully gains further confidence in not being sanctioned for his/her actions. A failure by other workers to report the incidents means they are complicit in the bullying as if they were taking the action against the employee.

The company must act – a failure to do so will expose the company to litigation leading to penalties under legislation and in the civil jurisdiction.

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