5 January 2020 posted by Recovery Partners

Many Australians underestimate the prevalence and detrimental effects of bullying and harassment in the workplace.  What many employers don’t realise is that workers affected by these problems usually “grin and bear it” because they’re afraid of losing their jobs.  There is a certain stigma attached to bullying and harassment and many convince themselves that they are overreacting, or that reporting the problem might make things worse.  Unfortunately, the latter is sometimes a valid fear; this needs to change. 

Bullying & Harassment Management Checklist here

What is bullying and harassment?

Bullying occurs when someone who is weaker or in a more vulnerable situation is intimidated or mistreated.  It can be, a direct abuse of power, or deliberate or unintentional act(s), that lead to a health and safety risk for the victim(s).  Bullying and harassment can be verbal, psychological, physical or social in nature.  In today’s workplace, psychological distress is generally the most common result of bullying.

Some common forms of bullying and harassment include psychological harassment, isolation or exclusion, verbal abuse, and withholding of significant information. Harassment involves behaviour that threatens or torments the victim. This is especially the case when it’s persistent in nature. Discrimination is another common problem; it involves unfair treatment of a person or group, usually based on gender, age, ethnicity, race, or religion.

Bullying and harassment can occur in any sort of workplace, both blue and white-collar. It’s important to recognise that bullying and harassment can occur both in-person and online (cyber-bullying).   

The effects of bullying and harassment?

Bullying and harassment has detrimental effects on both individuals and organisations, Including, but not limited to:

Individual effectsOrganisational Effects
Loss of confidenceVulnerabilityShock AngerDepressionStressFamily tensionLack of concentrationEmotional problemsFrustrationEmbarrassmentDistressAnxietyPanic attacksBlood pressureHeadachesDisturbed sleepingDigestive problemsSuicideLow moralePoor customer serviceReduced performanceHigh staff turnoverIncreased absenteeismLow productivityTime necessary to address issuesLegal costsWorkers compensation claimsCosts of recruitment and replacementIncreased employee assistant programsCompromised corporate imageIncrease in use of casual staff

 >> Read our article: “When to Take a Mental Health day” here <<

How to manage bullying and harassment?

There are several steps that need to be taken for effective management and prevention of bullying and harassment in the workplace. These include:

  1. Development of a policy and procedure
  2. Ensure policy is included in the staff induction handbook
  3. Actively encourage reporting, and consult with workers regularly
  4. Provide accredited/formal external training
  5. Use internal toolbox talks to reinforce training
  6. Provide access to counselling services
  7. Take disciplinary action as needed
  8. Contact the relevant State Safety Authority.

>> State Safety Incident Reporting Guide Here <<

Poster: What to do if you are bullied or harassed

It is just as important to create a mentally safe workplace for workers as it is, a physically safe one. Dr. Grant Blashki, a lead clinical advisor at beyondblue, illustrates that there are four key elements that must be present for a workplace to mentally safe:

  1. A positive workplace culture: workers must be able to feel happy about coming to work each day. They need encouragement and support.
  2. Reasonable level of stress: ensure that workers are not put under any more stress than necessary. Make sure to keep up excellent levels of communication, and be vigilant about boundaries between work and time off and reasonable deadlines. Foster as strong a sense of job security as possible.
  3. Be aware of mental health issues and provide support: it’s important to know about any existing mental health issues and provide support for them.
  4. Zero-tolerance policy for bullying, harassment, and discrimination: having a zero-tolerance policy for bullying, harassment, and discrimination will help to promote a mentally safe workplace. A zero-tolerance policy ensures that all employees know what will and will not be tolerated.

If you have any questions, or would like more information our Consultants are always happy to chat. You can contact us here or on 1300 OHS RTW (647 789).

Find out about WHS Training for Bullying & Harassment


“Australian workers ‘grin and bear it’ in silent workplace bullying epidemic”, http://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-03-16/workplace-bullying-an-epidemic-so-what-is-a-safe-workplace/9552456

More information on how to improve mental health and wellbeing at work here

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Disclaimer – these articles are provided to supply general safety information to people responsible for OHS in their organisation. They are general in nature and do not substitute for legal and/or professional advice. We always suggest that organisations obtain information specific to their needs. Additional information can be found at www.workcover.nsw.au