Bullies At Work


If you think there is a possibility that there is bullying happening in your workplace, then this article will help you to tell the difference between bullying and harassment. A dysfunction that is estimated to affected one in four people. Read on for simple tips and tools on how to deal with this issue.

Sadly, for the person being bullied, the results can be absolutely devastating. At worst the target will eventually leave to work  somewhere less unpleasant; at best they will stay; grit their teeth and get more and more miserable, and less and less productive.

It is estimated that workplace bullying affects 1:4 people (source - Workplaces Against Violence) (www.wave.org.nz)

Because bullying is such an emotional topic, in this article I want to cover:

  • What bullying (in the workplace) is - a definition
  • The difference between harassment and bullying - and there is a difference
  • Tips and tools if you suspect you are being bullied
  • Tips and tools for an organization to identify and deal with bullying
  • Some stats
  • The costs of bullying
  • Further information

WHAT BULLYING (In the workplace) IS:

Bullying is the abuse of position and/or power. It is about actions that are deliberate, debilitating and repeated. The target will be bullied until they either leave the organization or is totally subjugated. And then the bully will hunt out their next target.


  • Harassment is usually linked to gender, colour, race, disability and/or prejudice of some kind.
  • The person being harassed knows immediately that they are being harassed
  • Harassment is obvious - these people want an audience; they are looking for approval.
  • Harassment is about bravado, machismo (or whatever the female equivalent of machismo  is). It is about looking good in front of their mates (or co-workers)
  • People who use these tactics often lack self-discipline; they are almost always insecure and are very likely to have personal inadequacies
  • Bullying, however, is usually directed at one person who is selected because they are bright, popular, competent and vulnerable.
  • Bullying is about envy and jealousy
  •  The person being bullied may not realize they are being bullied for quite some time
  • Bullying is mostly done in private so that others don't see, and so that there are no witnesses
  • Bullies are inadequate in all areas of interpersonal skills and lack discipline in their own behavioural skills

NB - Some people are both harassers and bullies.


Rule No 1

Never, ever confront a bully. Not in private and absolutely never in public. They have been playing their game for a long time; they are skilled at it and all confronting them will achieve, is to actually make your situation worse. They may give the impression that they have listened, and in public they will make sure everyone around sees that they think you are wonderful and talented and capable, but in private your life will be hell.

Tip No 1                       

Try never to be alone with them - not always possible I know

Tip No 2                       

Keep notes - find a quiet place after an incident and jot down the key points of what just happened - what was said, what was threatened and what you said and did in response. This will also help you to calm your nerves.

Tip No 3                       

Let someone know what is happening. Do be very careful who you choose to confide in  - telling the wrong person can risk them letting the bully know you are making complaints, and then Rule No 1 comes back into play again with even greater force

Tip No 4

Start planning your exit - whether that is to another department or to another organization, it really doesn't matter - the longer you stay the more stressed you will become and the worse the effects will be on your health and your self-esteem. Remember that bullies do not give up. Once they have selected you as a target, they will continue bullying you until you leave or are totally subjugated.  

Tip No 5

And this is a really important tip. Know that this isn't YOUR problem. You are not to blame in any way. It is their problem and the problem of the organization for not recognizing what is happening. Because if the person has been with the organization a long time, you can pretty much guarantee that you will not be the first person they have done this to, and the organization has actually chosen to turn a blind eye and not deal with the situation.

Tip No 6                       

Sadly laying a complaint about bullying is often one person's word against another, and if the ‘other' person is in a management position, the manager seems to be believed more than the employee.


Tip No 1                       

Understand what bullying is and the harm it can do to your people; your organization and your reputation (people talk)

Tip No 2                       

Don't confuse strong management with bullying - there is a whole world of difference

Tip No 3                       

Make sure you have a bullying policy in place and make sure that the policy is communicated regular and enforced if necessary

Tip No 4                       

Make sure your managers and team leaders are trained in identifying and dealing with bullies

Tip No 5                       

Watch for the signs that a bully is at work - they are actually very obvious. The signs are showing up in any department where there is:

  • High absenteeism
  • High sickness rates
  • High turnover
  • High litigation costs

SOME INTERESTING STATS  (source www.bullyonline.org)

  • 66% of organizations have no bullying protocols
  • 23% of bullies work alone
  • 77% coerce others to bully alongside them
  • Only about 4% of bullies are ever punished

Bullyonline also cites instances where, if the bully suspects the target is on to them, the bully will get in first and complain of being bullied by the target to deflect the heat from themselves! Watch the pattern, because it will be repeated.

According to stats which appeared in The Australian Weekend Herald (7/7/07) :

  • 74% of Australians claim to have been bullied in the workplace
  • 77% said bullies were more likely to get ahead at work
  • 54% said there was a boys' club
  • 71% of those being bullied dreaded going to work
  • 46% said being bullied had made them physically ill
  • 67% said they worked with someone they would sack if given the chance
  • Women are more likely to be bullied than men.
  • 79% of women say they have been bullied v 69% of men
  • Less than 1% take legal action
  • Approx 20% of people who bully are teachers, lecturers and school admin staff
  • 12% are health care professionals
  • 10% are from the social services and caring occupations (including care of the elderly)
  • 6-8% are from voluntary and non-profit sector
  • 65% of enquiries bullyonline receives are from the public sector
  • 30% from the private
  • 90% of cases involve a manager bullying a subordinate
  • 8% peer-to-peer
  • 2% subordinates bullying their manager

And HER BUSINESS Magazine Jan/Feb 2006 suggests that:

  • 58% of bullies are women
  • Female bullies target another woman 87% of the time
  • Male bullies choose women targets 71% of the time

THE ENORMOUS COSTS - In a recent British court case, a bank worker was awarded NZ$2.2m for being bullied at work. (http://finsec.wordpress.com)

An Australian technician at British Aerospace won A$342,989 damages for a major depressive illness contracted while working for years under a supervisor who was often drunk, asleep and just plain incompetent.

A probation officer in NZ was awarded NZ$1m damages for injury to health caused by work overload which his employer did nothing to reduce

And a US survey of 9000 federal employees indicated a cost of US$180m in lost work time and productivity through bullying.  (Her Business Jan/Feb 2006)

Victoria, Australia has paid out A$34 million in compensation to almost 1,000 teachers and principles for stress and injury to health caused by excessive workloads, abuse, lack of support and having to deal with difficult students.

What a lot of bullies also fail to realize, is that what they are doing is actually against the law. In New Zealand, intimidation (and if bullying someone isn't intimidation, I don't know what is) attracts a maximum penalty of 3 months in prison or a fine up to $2000, whereas assault (and pushing and shoving constitutes assault), the maximum penalty for that is 6 months imprisonment or a fine up to $4000.

Employers in S.Australia can be fined up to $100,000 for failing to adequately manager bullying behaviour.





And to download an example of a bullying policy for your workplace go to http://www.freedomtocare.org/page155.htm

http://www.org.nz%20 (also has a free helpline)




Ann Andrews CSP specialises in working with high performing teams and showing managers how to deal with poor performance.

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