If you think you may be being bullied then chances are there are some uncomfortable things happening at work. Not all unpleasant experiences at work fall into the realm of bullying, however, and it is important to find out whether what you are experiencing is actually bullying or not.
Workplace bullying can come from superiors and peers but it is most often a situation involving a power imbalance where the bully has more power than the person being bullied. Workplace bullying does not have to be individual behaviour. A group (or mob) in the workplace can also be responsible for bullying and the target may be an individual or a group - in some cases this sort of bullying is referred to as ‘mobbing’.
There are things that happen at work that are not considered to be workplace bullying, even when these experiences may be slightly uncomfortable for you. The following are not considered to be bullying:
For workplace bullying to occur, the behaviour needs to be repeated, unreasonable behaviour that has the potential to cause harm to the health and safety of the worker.
Workplace bullying can take many forms but generally falls under one or more of the following headings:
The physical aspects of bullying also cover violent and sexual behaviours. This form of bullying is not as common as other forms of bullying but can nonetheless have serious health and safety effects. It includes:
The verbal aspects of bullying may not physically injure a worker but can cause serious damage to their psychological wellbeing, confidence and self esteem. They include:
Most of us know what it feels like to be left out of the social interactions occurring in a group of people who know each other well. The social aspects of work place bullying can be defined as such by the deliberate intention of the group to isolate another worker. These include:
The psychological effects of workplace bullying can be very damaging even when the bullying is physical, verbal or social in nature. There are some psychological aspects of workplace bullying that seem to especially target psychological well being and these include:
The key principle to addressing workplace bullying is to try if possible to address the behaviour in the least intrusive and least formal way as a starting point. If the informal processes do not result in a satisfactory outcome, then the more formal options can be considered.
Talking to someone you trust such as a close friend, relative or colleague may help you to decide whether what you are experiencing at work is bullying or whether it is just annoying behaviour that you will find in any workplace from time to time. It can be very hard to be objective about what is happening to you and sometimes the perspective of a friend or support person can help put things in context.
If you are still unsure, or if you want some advice and support in dealing with the situation at work, talk to the workplace bullying Contact Officer for your work area, if there is one.
If your workplace does not have a Contact Officer, they may have an Employee Assistant Program(EAP) Provider. This is a service which provides confidential advice to employees from an independent advisor or counsellor. Consider contacting such a service
– they are obliged to ensure that your contact with them is completely confidential.
Locate your organisation’s policy and procedure for dealing with workplace bullying and follow the steps therein. In most cases this will include various levels of possible response such as personal, informal and formal options.
If possible, tell your supervisor about your concerns. The supervisor cannot address the problem if they don’t know about it. You shouldn’t always assume that people higher up in the organisation know what is going on. Bullies can be very adept at presenting a different face to other workers.
If your supervisor is the person whose behaviour is concerning you, then in most cases the procedure would direct you to tell the next person of seniority in your work area.
The human resources or personnel section of the organisation is there to help you deal with issues that affect your work, especially when you feel that you cannot talk with your manager or supervisor about them. The human resources section can give you advice about the correct process to follow
to address the behaviour that is concerning you and can direct you to other avenues of support such as the Employee Assistance Program.
Your union and your workplace safety representative can assist you with advice and support in addressing workplace bullying. They will only act on your behalf if you givethem permission to and therefore your discussion with them can be completely confidential.
If you are unhappy with the way in which your complaint is handled or with the conduct of your employer, and you think that they are not meeting their obligation to take all reasonable steps to protect you from harm at work, you can contact WorkSafe ACT (part of the ACT Government’s Justice and Community Safety Directorate) and ask us to investigate the matter to determine whether your employer has breached its obligations under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011.
Click here to download a copy of a questionnaire that we would generally send to complainants, depending on the nature of their particular complaint.
WorkSafe ACT could, as a result of such an investigation, instruct your employer to take various steps to provide better protection for its workers.
Refer to our advice regarding what action WorkSafe ACT could take.
If you believe that you are being bullied for a particular reason such as your sex, disability, race or another attribute that is protected under the Discrimination Act 1991, or the bullying is of a sexual nature, you can lodge your complaint with the ACT Human Rights Commission, or the Federal Australian Human Rights Commission.
The ACT Human Rights Commission’s details can be found online at www.hrc. act.gov.au or you can ring them on 02 6205 2222.
In some cases, you may choose to seek legal advice regarding how to respond to the bullying you have experienced.
You may feel that you are not coping well with the situation you find yourself in. If necessary, consult your medical practitioner or seek other professional help. As with talking to someone you trust, there are times when it is better to seek help then just hope that things will get better. Once again, this can also help you to get an independent and more objective view of what is happening to you.
You can download this advice in the form of a PDF by downloading our publication, I think I am being bullied. What should I do?
Training and Other Information
You might also find our other information regarding bullying at work useful.