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Bullying in the Workplace - Part 1

How do we define bullying in the workplace

New Zealand has the second-highest rate of workplace bullying in the developed world with one in 10 employees saying that they have experienced harassment, discrimination or bullying in the workplace.

Bullying is repeated health harming mistreatment by one or more people. It is unreasonable behaviour directed towards a single worker or a group of workers that can lead to physical or psychological harm. Repeated behaviour that is persistent, meaning that it is not just a one off incident, and can involve a range of actions.

Unreasonable means that a reasonable person would consider those actions to be unreasonable if they were in the same or similar situation. These can include things like victimising, humiliating, intimidating or threatening a person. Bullying may also involve violence.

This type of abusive misconduct should not be confused with non-workplace bullying activity such as one-off instances of rudeness, being set high performance standards, legitimate advice or reviews, reasonable requests for instructions to be carried out, a warning to keep an employee in line with a company’s code of conduct, a single incident of unreasonable behaviour and differences in opinion or views that do not escalate into bullying, harassment, or violence.

What are the affects of bullying on workers?

It has long been known that bullying in the workplace has adverse effects on the mental wellbeing of its victims. In recent years though it has also been shown that bullying has serious effects on the individual's cardiovascular health. The more frequently a victim was subjected to some form of bullying the greater their risk of developing cardiac problems.

Other effects of bullying on victims include:

  • Anxiety, stress, fatigue and burnout

  • Decreased emotional wellbeing

  • Feelings of reduced personal control and helplessness

  • Increased likelihood of drug and alcohol abuse as a coping mechanism

  • Serious physical or mental health issues including depression and suicide attempts

  • Deterioration in health

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder

  • Low self-esteem

  • Reduced coping strategies

When does bullying occur?

Bullying in the workplace is not hierarchical meaning that it is not just managers targeting staff or staff targeting managers. It can also be co-workers targeting one another or other people such as clients, customers or visitors. Bullying also occurs when a company operates in a manner that adds undue stress or unreasonably burdens workers without concern for their wellbeing. In some instances workplace bullying may also occur outside of normal work hours. This can occur through avenues such as email, text messages and social media etc.

What types of behaviours can be perceived as bullying?

There are many types of bullying and bullying behaviour. It can be physical, verbal or relational/social such as excluding someone from a peer group or spreading rumours. Bullying falls into two main categories; attacks that are direct and personal or indirect and task related.

A personal or direct attack can range from belittling remarks, ignoring a person, attacking a person beliefs, attitude, lifestyle or gender references, ridiculing, being shouted at, threats of violence, persistent or public criticism, using obscene or offensive language, intimidation or encouraging someone to feel guilty.

An indirect attack can include being given unachievable or meaningless tasks, having information withheld or concealed from you, having your contributions undervalued, constant criticism of the work that you do, offensive sanctions such as being unreasonably denied leave, changing goal posts or targets, not being provided training or resources, having hints or threats made about the security of your employment, lack of role clarity, scapegoating and denial of opportunities.

In part 2 we will explore what you should do when confronted with bullying in the workplace and what you should expect when submitting a report or complaint.

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