Bullying doesn’t only happen in the school yard - the workplace is a breeding ground for bullies too.

Having a safe, non-threatening workplace is a basic human right. Sadly, there are people who have little respect for human rights, so even as adults we can find ourselves at the mercy of a bully in the form of an employer or co-worker.

SafeWork Australia defines workplace bullying as “any ongoing harmful or threatening behaviour by a person or group of people in your workplace that creates a risk to your health and safety.” It can happen in any kind of workplace and the bully isn’t always someone in a position of power – the bully can just as easily be a co-worker.

Recognising bullying

Some types of workplace bullying include:

  • Insults, yelling, swearing.
  • Hurtful comments, making fun of you or your work.
  • Spreading rumours or gossip.
  • Excluding you from workplace activities or conversations.
  • Playing mind games or ‘ganging up’.
  • Giving you pointless or demeaning tasks.
  • Making impossible demands; setting you up to fail.
  • Using your roster to make things difficult for you.
  • Withholding important information.
  • Physical violence, from pushing and tripping to physical attacks.
  • Threatening phone calls or texts or threatening you with workplace equipment like knives or drills.
  • Initiation or ‘hazing’ rituals where you have to do something unacceptable, humiliating or illegal.

How it can affect you

Workplace bullying can have dire consequences for your mental and physical wellbeing. According to the Bully Zero Australia Foundation it can lead to:

  • Severe psychological and emotional distress.
  • Sleep disturbances, impaired cognitive ability and feelings of anxiety and apprehension.
  • Physical symptoms like stomach aches, back pain, headaches, depression and anxiety.
  • Incapacity to work.
  • Problems with study and personal relationships.
  • Reduced productivity, work output and performance.
  • Loss of self-confidence, low morale, feeling rejected or unable to trust others.

Take care

There are many procedures in place to deal with bullying, and by law if you report an incident, your employer has to go through a formal process to handle your complaint. Start by finding your work’s official bullying policy. You might have been given a copy of this when you first started. It’ll give you an idea of who is the best person to talk to and what you need to do.

While you’re waiting for the powers-that-be to take action, it’s important to take care of yourself. The negative health effects of being bullied can be ongoing, even after the situation has been resolved, so it’s vital to know how to look after yourself now to prevent any further problems developing.

Speak up

You may feel nervous about telling your manager that you’re being bullied, but it’s their job to make sure your work environment is safe. If you don’t feel comfortable talking to your manager, take your concerns to someone more senior or speak to your human resources team. Don’t hide your suffering for fear of embarrassment – it’s not you who is the problem.

Keep a record

It can be tricky to remember what form the bullying took, and sometimes the signs can be subtle. So write everything down including the date and time each incident takes place. It will give you some peace of mind knowing you have specific details should you need them.

Keep your distance

Your wellbeing is important and it’s usually not worth confronting the bully yourself. Keep your distance and avoid dealing with the person unless absolutely necessary. Feeling stuck and like there’s no way out can have repercussions for your mental health, so look for support from friends.

Stay calm

Bullies like to push buttons to get a response. Try to keep your cool and give yourself the upper hand. It’s good to be assertive if necessary but avoid getting emotional if possible. This can be enough to stop the bullying but at the very least you’ll reduce your own stress.

Look for support

Talk to a friend or family member, or call a support service if you need emotional support. Organisations that provide counselling and advices are also available in your country, either by phone or online - don't be afraid to reach out for help at any time. 

Read more from Healthworks about succeeding in the workplace