Workplace Bullying: A Product Of Negative Workplace Culture


Image: Holly Hicks via

Bullying in the workplace and a negative workplace culture was one of the major concerns among respondents to our recent survey about ‘Workplace Culture’.

A negative workplace culture can foster all types of harassment and bullying behaviours. Bullying is defined as consistent and repeated unreasonable behaviour at the expense of someone else.

It can be directed to a single worker, or a group of workers and be carried out by one person or many. Bullying in the workplace can come from high up, or from among the ranks. It can be carried out by verbal harassment, emotional manipulation, physical harassment, or any type of behaviour that cause a risk of the health and safety of the victim.

Because of our digital age, bullying can now extend onto our social media and manifest in hurtful or vengeful messages on Facebook, emails, or through instant messaging.

Bullying in the workplace is an awful reality that needs to be addressed.

From schoolyard to office

The workplace should not be like kids in a schoolyard where older kids belittle and degrade the younger or smaller kids. The workplace should never make you feel threatened, anxious, or unsafe.

Being bullied at work can lead to the worker feeling stressed, anxious, and depressed. Many victims of bullying at the workplace feel that they cannot speak out or address this issue, for fear of causing more trouble or because the person who is bullying them is their boss or manager.

These bullies at work are no different to the bullies you may have encountered at school. Just like at school, victims who are being bullied should seek the assistance of a mentor or a mediator such as a manger, friend, guardian, or governing bodies such as the Fair Work Ombudsman, the Australian Human Rights Commission, or a support line such as Reach Out Australia.

What does bullying in the workplace look like?


  • repeated hurtful remarks or attacks, or making fun of your work or you as a person (including your family, sex, sexuality, gender identity, race or culture, education or economic background)
  • sexual harassment, particularly stuff like unwelcome touching and sexually explicit comments and requests that make you uncomfortable
  • excluding you or stopping you from working with people or taking part in activities that relates to your work
  • playing mind games, ganging up on you, or other types of psychological harassment
  • intimidation (making you feel less important and undervalued)
  • giving you pointless tasks that have nothing to do with your job
  • giving you impossible jobs that can’t be done in the given time or with the resources provided
  • deliberately changing your work hours or schedule to make it difficult for you
  • deliberately holding back information you need for getting your work done properly
  • pushing, shoving, tripping, grabbing you in the workplace
  • attacking or threatening with equipment, knives, guns, clubs or any other type of object that can be turned into a weapon
  • initiation or hazing – where you are made to do humiliating or inappropriate things in order to be accepted as part of the team.

How can bullying in the workplace affect your work?

If you are being bullied at work, you might:

  • be less active or successful
  • be less confident in your work
  • feel scared, stressed, anxious or depressed
  • have your life outside of work affected, e.g. study, relationships
  • want to stay away from work
  • feel like you can’t trust your employer or the people who you work with
  • lack confidence and happiness about yourself and your work
  • have physical signs of stress like headaches, backaches, sleep problems

What are the facts about bullying and harassment in the workplace?

If you are being bullied at work, you should become aware of your rights and some of the things you or others may be able to do to help.

Bullying and abuse:

If you are under 16 years old, bullying and violence may also be child abuse. See the Lawstuff topic on child abuse under your state or territory for more information.

Bullying and discrimination:

Bullying may also be discrimination if it is because of your age, sex, pregnancy, race, disability, sexual orientation, religion or certain other reasons. Sexual harassment and racial hatred are also against the law. For more information on what anti-discrimination laws cover, and what you can do about it, look at the Australian Human Rights Commission page

Responsibility of employers:

Your employer has a legal responsibility under Occupational Health and Safety and anti-discrimination law to provide a safe workplace. Employers have a duty of care for your health and wellbeing whilst at work. An employer that allows bullying to occur in the workplace is not meeting this responsibility.

Responsibility of bystanders:

We all have a moral responsibility to help create a positive, safe workplace.  If someone in your workplace is experiencing harassment or bullying, you can tell them about the steps they can take to solve it.

What can you do if you’re being bullied at work?

Be sure to keep a diary and document the time, place, person, and event of bullying as this can help you lodge an official complaint.

It is also important to seek the advice and support of someone you trust. This also includes contacting your union and/or professional support services such as Lifeline, Beyond Blue, and Reach Out.

Approach the bully. Unlike the schoolyard, you are mature enough to confront the person doing the bullying if you feel confident to do so and if you can maintain a sense of maturity and sensibility. If it’s helpful, you may also wish to get the assistance of a manager or co-worker to act as a mediator.

Tell your workplace. Your workplace will usually have a process for making a complaint and resolving disputes, which might include a warning, requiring the bully to have counselling, a mediation process, or even firing the bully if the situation continues. The person to talk to might be your supervisor/manager, a harassment contact officer, or a health and safety representative (if your work has one).

If no other tactic works, and the bullying and harassment continues, you are within your right to lodge an official complaint to the Australian Human Rights Commission.

Getting Help

If you have made a complaint to your manager or others in your workplace and there have not been adequate steps taken to stop the bullying there are a number of options that you can take to get help.

When to contact the police

If bullying is violent or threatening it may be a criminal offense and you should contact the police immediately call 000

If the situation in not urgent you can call 131 444 for all states and territories except for Victoria where you will need to visit your local police station.

Making a complaint about workplace bullying to the Australian Human Rights Commission 

If you are been bullied, harassed or discriminated against because of your race, sex, age, sexual orientation, religion or because you have a disability or are pregnant you can contact the Australian Human Rights Commission. Call 1300 656 419

The Commonwealth Fairwork Ombudsman can provide information and advice about Australia’s workplace rights and rules and the protection you have against harassment and discrimination.  Call  131394

Report bullying to a State or Territory work health and safety authority

Your boss has a duty to ensure the health, safety and welfare at work of all their employees. You can report bullying incidences to the following state and territory work health and safety authorities.

Australian Capital Territory

WorkSafe ACT can provide advice and help if you are experiencing workplace bullying call 02 6207 3000

New South Wales

Workcover Authority of NSW can provide advice and help if you are experiencing workplace bullying call 13 10 50

Northern Territory

NT Worksafe can provide advice and help if you are experiencing workplace bullying. Call 1800 019 115 

South Australia

SafeWork SA can provide advice and help if you are experiencing workplace bullying call 1300 365 255


Workplace Victoria can provide advice and help if you are experiencing workplace bullying.…


Workplace Health and Safety Queensland can provide advice and help if you are experiencing workplace bullying.  You can call the young workers advisory service 1800 232 000 and a Workplace Bullying hotline 1800 177 717

Western Australia

WorkSafe WA can provide advice and help if you are experiencing workplace bullying. Call 1300 655266

Source: Australian Human Rights Commission


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