Bullying and harassment at work, is “repeated unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker or group of workers that can lead to physical or psychological harm” (Worksafe, 2018)

“Repeated” means the behaviour occurs more than once, but it does not mean that it has to be exactly the same behaviour each time, it just has to have the same targeted employee/s and the same harmful intention.

To help with clarity, bullying and harassment are not things like:

  • One off occasional instances of less than ideal behaviour
  • Setting performance standards – even high ones – or managing performance
  • Constructive feedback or performance reviews
  • Normal discipline, correction, guidance or management practices
  • Personality clashes or differences of opinion that do no escalate

Behaviours that can be bullying and harassment can be both personal and/or work related in nature. Examples of personal harassment can be attacking or belittling a person’s race, beliefs, gender or sexual orientation, physical size, disability etc. Work related bullying and harassment can be actions such as setting impossible deadlines or workloads, destructive criticism, consistently not giving due credit, allocating meaningless work or removing responsibility for no good reason, treating similar situations differently, refusing leave for no good reason etc.

Bullying and harassment can happen at any level or between different levels of an organisation, in any direction. It usually involves employees but can also occur with customers, suppliers or even visitors. It is often not directly visible to leadership, because it is a covert strategy, and unless it is reported directly, leadership can be completely unaware of its existence. At worst, it can even be a culture allowed or perpetrated by junior leaders.

Bullying and harassment have direct organisational and health and safety implications – environments where bullying and harassment exist are known to have greater stress and relationship problems, higher turnover, lower morale, lower productivity, and higher incident and accident statistics.

Employers are required to ensure the health and wellbeing within the workplace and are therefore directly responsible for dealing with bullying and harassment. This is not just the management of an incident, but the creation of a safe and positive culture in the workplace that does not tolerate bullying or harassment. They should do this through a number of important things:

  • Leading by example
  • Providing training and information
  • Establishing a consistent culture of zero tolerance
  • Through a bullying and harassment policy that clearly sets out:
  • What behaviour will and will not be tolerated
  • How to make a complaint
  • How complaints will be handled
  • What consequences might follow such behaviour