Bullying is the scourge of many workplaces. There are few things which destroy office morale, tear apart team cohesion or cause good staff to leave as quickly as victimisation and harassment in the workplace. Interestingly, research has identified 22 different types of bullying conduct which might be encountered in the average workplace. 

We outline these different types of bullying and provide tips on how to avoid situations that cause this type of conflict in the workplace. 

WHAT IS THE LEGAL DEFINITION OF BULLYING?

According to Fair Work Australia, a person is bullied in the workplace if they are repeatedly subjected to unreasonable behaviour by another person or group of people, or if that behaviour creates a risk to the health and safety of the bullied employee. 

Bullying includes teasing, exclusion and unreasonable work demands, but does not include reasonable disciplinary action or control of workflow. 

TYPES OF BULLYING BEHAVIOUR

Research conducted by the University of Wollongong into 500 Australian employees over a 12-month period identifies the following different types of bullying behaviour: 

  • Withholding information (relevant to a person's employment or role)
  • Humiliation and ridicule
  • Tasking a person with work that is below their level of competence
  • Removing responsibility from a person who has earned it
  • Spreading gossip or rumours 
  • Ignoring or excluding a worker
  • Making personal insults
  • Shouting at or otherwise berating a person
  • Intimidating behaviour
  • Providing hints or signals that a person should resign or abandon their job
  • Reminding a worker constantly of errors or mistakes they have previously made
  • Persistently criticising an employee
  • Ignoring a worker hostile behaviour towards a worker
  • Ignoring a worker's opinion
  • Playing practical jokes or pranks
  • Imposing unreasonable deadlines
  • Making unfounded allegations
  • Excessively monitoring an employee's work
  • Putting pressure on an employee not to claim entitlements such as annual leave, personal leave or carer's leave
  • Teasing an employee
  • Imposing unreasonable workloads
  • Making threats of violence or engaging in actual abuse

These types of conduct, if repeated, generally present themselves in categories of limited indirect bullying, task-related bullying, or occasional bullying, or frequent bullying. Regardless of the cause, bullying results in increased absenteeism as a result of physical and mental health consequences on the worker who is affected. 

THE RISKS OF BULLYING

Apart from the obvious risks of employees resigning or taking extended periods of leave due to bullying, employers should also be aware of the potential for presenteeism - where staff turn up but are too affected by the bullying to effectively perform their work. 

Should employers fail to deal with bullying behaviour, they may be in non-compliance with their duty of care and their obligation to provide a safe and healthy workplace.

WHAT CAN EMPLOYERS DO? 

It is essential for employers to set clear boundaries on what sort of behaviour is and is not acceptable in the workplace. The most effective way to do this is to create clear and direct policies which are well publicised to all staff, ensuring awareness. 

Staff should also be trained in dealing with subtle acts of bullying, which could over time escalate into more serious types of bullying. 

Employers can best combat bullying by fostering a positive workplace culture as a whole, and encouraging strong leadership and communication. This includes giving staff sufficient resources to do their jobs effectively, providing positive feedback and resisting the urge to micromanage. 

WISE Workplace is against workplace bullying and provides training for employers on how to investigate allegations of bullying in the workplace. If your organisation wants to create a workplace environment that is free from discrimination, harassment and misconduct, contact us today! 

WISE Workplace is a multidisciplinary organisation specialising in the management of workplace behaviour. We investigate matters of corporate and professional misconduct, resolve conflict through mediation and provide consultation services for developing effective people governance. 

Read Blog at WISE

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Comment by Bernard Keith Althofer on November 23, 2018 at 9:25

It has appeared to me that getting managers and workers to understand not only what behaviours might constitute bullying, but also the need to identify the frequency and severity of those behaviours.  On the face of it, some behaviours when occuring in isolation may not be bullying, but when viewed as part of an 'overall picture', patterns of behaviour become very clear. 

In the all the years of providing advice, guidance and support to managers, supervisors and workers about bullying, I invariably found that in some cases, initial concerns that bullying had occurred, were in reality part of reasonable management practices.  However, some of the practices were conducted in an unreasonable manner but were written off as an oversight.

It does appear that managers and workers (even though both may be subjected to bullying behaviours) may have differing perspectives about the behaviours either committed or witnessed.  I found that it was useful to provide individuals with a 'self assessment tool' so they could identify the frequency, severity and actions taken in relation to the behaviours.  In some cases, individuals who indicated they had been bullied spoke in broad terms e.g. "I have been bullied" but were not able to provide specific examples.  Once they had been provided with a 'self assessment tool', they were able to document the behaviours, thus showing patterns of behaviours.

The adept 'bully' is able to use behaviours in such as a way, that in isolation they do not appear as bullying, but when an individual is able to show patterns, their case may be more substantial.  Maintaining a 'self assessment tool' may be time consuming but, in my view, provides not only the target with 'discussion points' but provides an investigator (internal or external) and even management with a greater understanding about what has been happening. 

My experience indicates that some targets are reluctant (on good grounds) to pursue a formal complaint particularly when they are belittled, intimidated or harassed for not immediately reporting the behaviour. 

In a worker self assessment tool that I developed, I identified 112 behaviours that were 'categorised' as physical, non-physical, verbal and non verbal behaviours.  Targets were asked to indicate frequency rate after each behaviour (Code D = daily, W = Weekly, M = Monthly); indicate severity rate (Code A - 0-3 days off work, Code B - 3-7 days off work, Code C - 8-21 days off work, Code D - more than 22 days off work and indicate the action taken by placing a tick in the appropriate column (Code E – Did nothing, Code F – Handled the matter yourself, Code G –Reported matter to line manager/supervisor, Code H – Lodged complaint, Code I – Took part in mediation, Code J – Lodged Workplace Injury Claim, Code K – Took legal action.

A witness/bystander could complete a similar self assessment but from their observations so whilst the listed behaviours were the same, their responses would be different.

A manager/supervisor could also be a target of bullying.  However, a self assessment for them allowed them to complete an assessment from a management/supervisory aspect so the questions focussed very much towards:

  • Which of the following effects of counterproductive workplace behaviours have you seen in your workplace?
  • Which of the following effects of counterproductive workplace behaviours have impacted on you in your workplace?
  • Which of the following consequences of counterproductive workplace behaviours have you seen in your workplace?
  • Which of the following consequences of counterproductive workplace behaviours have impacted on you in your workplace?
  • Which of the following contributors to counterproductive workplace behaviours have you observed and/or personally experienced in your workplace?
  • Which of the following strategies have you seen and/or personally used to address counterproductive workplace behaviours in your workplace?
  • Please comment on policy and procedures to address counterproductive workplace behaviours in your workplace.

It seems that there is considerable emphasis being placed on individuals being required to report breaches of work health and safety i.e. bullying, and yet when individuals who have been bullied seek advice, conversations may lead to them believing that is they who are in the wrong.  I have a view that if a managers and workers at all levels have access to self assessment tools, they can not only identify the behaviours that they believe are 'bullying behaviours', they can identify the context in which they occur, and discussions can focus on whether or not there are actual patterns of behaviour that are not reasonable management actions.

Writing behaviours off as an 'oversight' or a personality clash will not cut it when these excuses are being offered as a way of denying that there is a problem.

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