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Workforce Bullying

Over the years there has been a growing awareness of bullying in the workplace and the harm that it can do to individuals and groups of individuals.

Worksafe New Zealand defined bullying as

a significant workplace hazard that affects employee health and business productivity”.

They go on to say that

“employers have a duty to control all workplace hazards, including bullying and other undesirable behaviour”.

As an experienced human resource practitioner, we have investigated many bullying situations that have been both very serious and, at the other extreme, unsubstantiated. The investigations have ranged from being about two individuals, to a team, while others have involved a whole branch. Sometimes the bullying may be done by a manager; it can be an employee bullying a manager; or it can be between colleagues.

If you, as an employer, are aware of a bullying situation developing, then you have an obligation to do something. If you need help you should email Hilary@newbyhr.com or steve@newbyhr.com or you can text/ring 027 544 1947 or 021 262 1035 and we can give you advice or help you carry out an investigation.


Below are helpful guidelines on bullying taken from the Worksafe NZ Guidelines. The full link to the website is at the end.


Bullying is bad for business

Its effects can reduce productivity and disrupt workplaces through:

  • impaired performance
  • increased absence
  • low morale
  • more mistakes and accidents
  • loss of company reputation
  • resignations and difficulty recruiting
  • poor customer service and/or product quality.


Definition of Bullying

Workplace bullying is repeated and unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker or a group of workers that creates a risk to health and safety.

  • Repeated behaviour is persistent and can involve a range of actions over time.
  • Unreasonable behaviour means actions that a reasonable person in the same circumstances would see as unreasonable. It includes victimising, humiliating, intimidating or threatening a person.


Effects of bullying on a person

Workplace bullying has been associated with threats to personal identity and can affect a person’s quality of life outside of work. It has varied and substantial negative effects including:

  • low self-esteem, negative emotions and depression
  • anxiety, stress, fatigue and burnout
  • feelings of reduced personal control and helplessness
  • post-traumatic stress disorder
  • deterioration in health
  • increased likelihood of drug and alcohol abuse as a coping mechanism
  • possible serious physical, emotional and mental health issues or suicide attempts.


Effects of bullying on a workplace

Bullying also negatively impacts on workplaces. Coercion or bullying from managers can:

  • decrease employee health and wellbeing, motivation, performance and commitment
  • cause staff to attend work while sick, or take more sick leave to distance themselves
  • lead to increased resignations
  • lead to poor customer service and product quality
  • diminish company reputation (the bad employer view) and create difficulty with recruiting.


Bullying behaviours – personal and task related

Personal attacks (direct) Task-related attacks (indirect)
Belittling remarks – undermining integrity – lies being told – sense of judgement questioned – opinions marginalised Giving unachievable tasks – impossible deadlines – unmanageable workloads – overloading – ‘setting up to fail’
Ignoring – excluding – silent treatment – isolating Meaningless tasks – unpleasant jobs – belittling a person’s ability – undermining
Attacking a person’s beliefs, attitude, lifestyle or appearance – gender references – accusations of being mentally disturbed Withholding or concealing information – information goes missing – failing to return calls or pass on messages
Ridiculing – insulting – teasing – jokes – ‘funny surprises’ – sarcasm Undervaluing contribution – no credit where it’s due – taking credit for work that’s not their own
Shouted or yelled at Constant criticism of work
Threats of violence Underwork – working below competence – removing responsibility – demotion
Insulting comments about private life Unreasonable or inappropriate monitoring
Physical attacks Offensive sanctions – eg denying leave
Public humiliation Excluding – isolating – ignoring views
Persistent and/or public criticism Changing goalposts or targets
Using obscene or offensive language, gestures, material Not giving enough training or resources
Ganging up – colleagues/clients encouraged to criticise you or spy on you – witch hunt – dirty tricks campaign – singled out Reducing opportunities for expression – interrupting when speaking
Intimidation – acting in a condescending manner Sabotage
Intruding on privacy, eg spying, stalking, harassed by calls when on leave or at weekends Supplying incorrect or unclear information
Unwanted sexual approaches, offers, or physical contact Making hints or threats about job security
Verbal abuse No support from manager
Inaccurate accusation Scapegoating
Suggestive glances, gestures, or dirty looks Denial of opportunity
Tampering with personal effects – theft – destruction of property Judging wrongly
Encouraged to feel guilty Forced or unjustified disciplinary hearings
Lack of role clarity
Not trusting




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