Bullying in the workplace
Workplace bullying is repeated and unreasonable behaviour directed towards people at work that can lead to physical or psychological harm. It may also include harassment, discrimination, or violence.
It must be both:
Repeated behaviour – persistent actions (occurs more than once) and can involve a range of actions over time.
Unreasonable behaviour – actions that a reasonable person in the same circumstances would see as unreasonable. This includes victimising, humiliating, intimidating or threatening a person.
People targeted often feel they are unable to protect themselves due to real or perceived power imbalances. They are also more likely to experience mental distress and are more vulnerable to suicidal thoughts.
Workplace bullying can be:
Via email, text messaging, online forums or other social media channels.
Carried out by one or more workers.
Occurring outside normal working hours.
Directed at one person or a group of workers.
Targeted at other people involved in a workplace such as clients, patients, students and customers.
By others connected to a workplace, such as clients, patients, students and customers.
According to WorkSafe, bullying is not:
One-off or occasional instances of forgetfulness, rudeness or tactlessness.
Setting high performance standards
Constructive feedback and legitimate advice or peer review
A manager requiring reasonable verbal or written work instructions to be carried out
Warning or disciplining workers in line with the organisation or code of conduct
A single incident of unreasonable behaviour
Reasonable management actions delivered in a reasonable way
Differences in opinion or personality clashes that do not escalate into bullying, harassment or violence
“Bullying harms workers. A worker’s business or undertaking must ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety of workers, and that other persons are not put at risk by its work.
The business or undertaking must, so far as is reasonably practicable, minimise the likelihood of bullying by putting in place control measures such as having a code of conduct, reporting procedures for unreasonable behaviour and manager training.” WorkSafe NZ
If you are experiencing bullying in the workplace, you may feel powerless and unheard. It can also affect your mental and physical health. You have the right to feel safe from bullying, discrimination and harassment in your place of work.
Being bullied in the workplace may include:
Personal attacks – ignoring or excluding someone from meetings or activities, humiliation, verbal or physical abuse, spreading false rumours or sharing personal information, attacking a person’s beliefs, attitudes, appearance or lifestyle, unwanted sexual advances.
Task related - setting unachievable or meaningless tasks, unmanageable workloads, impossible deadlines, undervaluing contribution or taking credit for others work, undermining someone, withholding or concealing information, constant criticism, making hints or threats about job security.
There are steps you can take to resolve any bullying behaviour you may be experiencing and keep yourself safe in the workplace. If you feel like you are being bullied, you can:
Gather information. For each incident keep records of:
the date, time and where it occurred
what happened (who was present, what was said, who said what)
if there were any witnesses
how you felt.
Seek advice and support. Talk to a trusted friend or colleague to ‘sense check’ what you are experiencing.
Speak up. If you feel safe to do so, you could write the person an email, letter, or talk with them directly. Share the impact of their behaviours towards you. Try to give specific examples and alternatives of how you’d prefer to be communicated with.
Seek advice from others like a manager, co-workers, HR team, Health and Safety representatives, the union, an Employee Assistance Programme (if available), your local Community Law Centre or Citizens Advice Bureau, contact Worksafe NZ or contact a helpline.
Follow any relevant policies or processes your workplace may have around bullying by reporting the behaviour.
Make a formal complaint about the behaviour. To see what this involves and what should occur in the workplace once this undertaken visit WorkSafe’s information on “Bullying at Work – Advice for Workers”.
Be aware of how the bullying is making you feel. If you feel sad, anxious, depressed, angry or unsafe, are avoiding whānau, other colleagues and friends or having trouble sleeping, concentrating or completing your work, it’s important that you seek help.
Talk to a trusted friend or colleague, use your organisation’s EAP (Employee Assistance Programme) service (if you have one) or contact a helpline.
There is also a range of services and resources available to employees who experience bullying at work. You can:
advise your employer that you’ve experienced bullying behaviour using WorkSafe’s reporting and assessment forms.
access the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s Early Resolution Service. This is a free phone-based service which helps workplaces to resolve issues early, quickly and informally.
contact Employment New Zealand for advice on formal and informal steps you can take if you feel bullied in the workplace
Visit WorkSafe for more advice about what bullying at work can look like, and what workers can do if they think they are being bullied or are accused of being a bully.
Preventing bullying in the workplace
Creating a mentally healthy workplace is about creating a safe, supportive and strong workplace culture where bullying cannot thrive.
Each year, one in five employees in New Zealand workplaces report they have experienced bullying. It not only affects individuals but also the productivity of organisations. It is essential that workplaces have a clear understanding of what bullying is, and the impact that it can have on individuals and the morale of teams.
Recognising that bullying is a health risk, workplaces should act on any reports of bullying, quickly and appropriately, with clear processes in place to support this.
“Under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 (HSWA) businesses are expected to manage health and safety risks arising from their work as far as is reasonably practicable”. WorkSafe NZ
Workplaces can prevent bullying by incorporating:
Strong and well communicated policies and processes regarding bullying.
Leadership commitment to preventing bullying and intervening when it occurs.
Practices that affirm inclusion and psychological safety.
Policies should include but not be limited to:
A definition of bullying.
Clearly explained organisational commitments to bullying prevention.
Clear expectations and communication around roles and responsibilities.
Clear processes for reporting and managing bullying complaints.
Clear communication and direction around available support.
Once a policy is put in place, it’s important to walk the talk. From a Māori perspective, for example, tīkanga cannot be applied unless underlying values genuinely inform those actions.
If your organisation doesn’t have a current policy, WorkSafe NZ has an example template here.
For more information on what your workplace can do to keep your staff safe from bullying, check out our workplace bullying prevention information and resources or download our Pink Shirt Day Workplace toolkit.
To help your workplace prioritise mental health to ensure employees have improved wellbeing, greater morale and higher job satisfaction visit our Working Well Guide and Resources.
Visit Worksafe for more tools, templates and resources to help prevent bullying in the workplace.