Dealing to workplace bullying

Workplace bullying could be one of NZ's best-kept secrets

There are initiatives galore to address bullying in schools nowadays. But what happens when the bullies are a little older? Like one of your colleagues? Or your boss? What do you do when you’re too old to turn to your parents for help?

The Bullies Down Under website has an article which may help you deal with a bullying situation in your workplace.

It advises documenting evidence surrounding the bullying (sign and date any record and try to have a witness around to observe at any meetings and ask for any complaints about your work in writing).

Seek support from others and make sure they know what’s happening. Bullies Down Under also advises getting a regular health check so signs of stress such as blood pressure can be measured and recorded for future reference.

If you feel safe enough to, the site suggests you confront the bully, but do so with someone else present.

“Name the bullying behaviour/s, give specific examples and describe the effects it has on your work to the bully. Stick to the facts and try not to sound too judgemental. Ask the bully to stop because it is affecting your work.”

The article says you should make it clear you are noting incidents and will take further action if the bullying doesn’t stop.

If the bullying continues, then Bullies Down Under suggests you make a formal complaint to the CEO or someone else with authority to do something about it, detailing what you have already done about it.

The article says you shouldn't blame yourself.

“The chances are that you have done nothing wrong at all, but you probably represent some kind of threat to the bully or you may be perceived as vulnerable. You should not waste energy further eroding your own confidence by indulging in this negative soul searching.”

The Bullying Institute (yes, there is such a thing) advises being on the alert to bullying prior to even starting a job. It says you should ask for information about employee turnover before accepting a job. A high turnover doesn’t necessarily mean there’s bullying, but it’s something to think about.

It also advises asking to see the employee manual before the interview.

“Look for protection against general harassment by co-workers and supervisors.”

An article by Bill Wilson on the BBC website says bullying can often be subtle and insidious.

Signs of bullying include constant and trivial criticism; your contribution not being recognised; being treated differently from the group; being shouted at, threatened, marginalised, belittled and ignored.

Other signs of insidious bullying include being given trivial tasks or no work and being given unrealistic or changing goals.

The article says bullying incidents might seem trivial on their own, but it is the “cumulative effect and the wearing down of the victim that causes the anguish”.

Wilson writes that often there are serial bullies, who have previously been bullying somewhere else and getting away with it.

“Bullies are subtle, and they are adept at getting management on their side. They will also convince the target's fellow workers to turn a blind eye instead of offering support."

For New Zealand-specific information check out Beyond Bullying, the site of Andrea W. Needham, management consultant and author of Workplace Bullying.

“Bullying is a horrendous abuse issue in our schools and is now proving to be one of our best-kept corporate secrets,” writes Needham. “Bullying in the workplace is insidious, ongoing, and is quietly condoned by many individuals in management through non-action.”

Her site has a variety of resources including links to articles and details on an 0800 number to call if you need information or advice (0800 93 76 28 — Monday to Friday 9am–7pm and Saturday 9am–12 noon).

Have you been a workplace bully victim? How did you deal with it?

Mills is a Dunedin-based writer. She can be contacted at

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