Workplace Bullying & Harassment

Exposure to workplace bullying can injure a person severely. Through exposure to one of the most painful experiences for a human being, abuse, exclusion, rejection, and ostracism an employee can develop severe trauma, depression and anxiety. If the organization does not respond with professionalism, support, investigation and repair a sense of betrayal will develop and the wound will become deeper. A sense of institutional betrayal develops and a deeper moral injury will ensue. Employees often cope as long as they can but realize too late the damage that has been done. They often then remove themselves form the work setting and need specialized treatment to regain the ability to return to the workplace.

Resolving workplace Bullying is a comprehensive approach to this serious issue that injures employees and their families, damages teams and organization through loss of reputations, production, absenteeism, complaints, grievances, arbitrations and investigations.

In a respectful workplace, each individual has the right to work in a professional atmosphere which promotes equal opportunity and prohibits discriminatory practices. In a respectful workplace, communication is clear and direct, employees feel supported by their supervisors and managers, supported by the company, and get along with peers.

Workplace Bullying – A Definition

Bullying in the workplace has been described as more costly and destructive to organisations than all other types of work-related stress put together. Intensifying the issue of bullying in the workplace is the confusion around what constitutes bullying, resulting in bullying often going unreported by staff members, and organisations not appropriately preventing or managing bullying behaviours.

Workplace bullying is defined as “repeated, unreasonable behaviour directed towards a person or group of persons at a workplace, which creates a risk to health and safety.” Like other forms of discrimination in the workplace, intention is irrelevant. Bullying can take place at any time when employees are engaged in work related activities, including work social events. Bullying can also take many forms including verbal, physical by letter, email, or text message.

Workplace bullying can be obvious and aggressive, for example:

  • Behaviour or language that frightens, humiliates, belittles or degrades.
  • Loud verbal criticism.
  • Encouragement to other workers to participate in bullying behaviour.
  • Malicious rumours, gossip, or innuendo.

Workplace bullying can also be subtle and can include behaviour such as:

  • Deliberate exclusion of a worker from normal workplace activities.
  • Interference with personal property or work equipment.
  • Intimidation by inappropriate personal comment, belittling opinions or unjustified criticism.
  • Offensive jokes, whether by spoken word or email.

Behaviour that treats some employees less favourably is also classed as bullying and can incorporate assignment of meaningless tasks to a worker, deliberately changing work arrangements to inconvenience a worker, unreasonably blocking promotion, training, development or other work opportunities and removal of areas of responsibility without cause.

Bullying by managers and/or supervisors can take the form of excessive or unreasonable work scrutiny, inappropriate or unreasonable criticism of someone’s work or behaviour, constant or inappropriate change or setting of impossible deadlines, tasks or targets along with taking no action to address legitimate grievances.

Costs to Organizations

When people are involved in high-stress situations, it's common that they'll go to great lengths to avoid the unpleasant situation. Perhaps they will call in sick when they're not, or maybe even go on extended stress leaves. Research suggests that workplace bullying has been a factor in the loss of over 18.9 million working days each year.

Workplace bullying has been also associated with high turnover rates. A report released by suggests that up to 30% of bullied employees will resign from their jobs, and 20% of those who witness bullying will also leave the organization.

Physical Impacts of Bullying

Society has also become more aware of the negative physical impacts of depression and anxiety.

High-stress levels can have a real impact on the health of employees, perhaps in the form of medical issues related to high blood pressure, depression, migraine headaches, or anxiety. This can cost an employer in the form of sick leaves, health insurance costs, and worker's compensation claims.

The results of all this dysfunction can be mediocre products, lost opportunities, lower customer satisfaction. Even worse, individual and public safety can be adversely affected. These considerations underscore the severity of the potential problems that can be unleashed when the wrong kind of attitude permeates a workforce.

Bullying tends to escalate over time

Whether bullies are managers or coworkers, once they discover they can get away with aggression and disrespect, the behavior often gets even worse. If not challenged, bullies can convince themselves that what they are doing is right and the targets of their behavior somehow “deserve what they’re getting.”

Bullies can grow to enjoy the feelings of power they get over others, and escalate their activities to get even more of that feeling. An atmosphere can develop that makes observers of the behavior feel free to behave badly as well. Colleagues or coworkers may even be recruited to join in. Before you know it, a negative downward spiral is formed that is very difficult to reverse.

Negative Impact on Company’s Reputation

Victims of bullying are likely to talk to friends or family about what is going on and how they feel about it. This information can spread quickly and sour your company’s public image.

A poor public image is especially destructive to a company that depends on the public for patronage, such as a restaurant or a landscaping company. A negative image can also deter jobseekers from applying to your company, making it more difficult to recruit new employees.

How We Can Help

It would be irresponsible of us to say that bullying and harassment can be eradicated completely, however steps can be made to minimise the risk of bullying and harassment in the workplace.


We can train your managers. Our Respect in workplace program teaches managers the risks of bullying and harassment, and how to identify and tackle these situations.


We can update your policies or create your policies, and these will be compliant at the time of writing.


Do you need an investigation undertaken due to a complaint? DEVA can be instructed to run an investigation plus much more.


Not sure if something you said or did is correct? Do you want some advice on what steps you should make going forward? DEVA can help.

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