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Workplace bullying: it's a bad business


Emily Chantiri

The impact of bullying can be far-reaching. But it can also be avoided.

The impact of bullying can be far-reaching. But it can also be avoided. Photo: Louie Douvis

It is the silent epidemic that claims billions of dollars in revenue each year, but the biggest cost by far for a company that hires a bully is the trauma experienced by staff in the firing line.

Workplace experts say that if bullies are not dealt with appropriately, low productivity, absenteeism and even physical illness can eventually seep through into the company's brand name, goodwill and bottom line.

While bad managers can come in many guises, bullies have one thing in common: they deliberately use repeated, continued behaviour that is designed to make a staff member feel bad, said conflict resolution consultant Joe Moore of Kimber Moore and Associates.

This is the legal definition of bullying used by the Occupational, Health and Safety Association (OHSA), Moore said. “It's important to understand this as we tend to use the term loosely in everyday language. Bullying is intentional and harmful."

The Beyond Bullying Association in Australia estimates between 2.5 million and 5 million people experience some aspects of bullying at work.

“If you have 100 employees, and a quarter are exposed to bullying type of behaviour each year, it's going to affect the bottom line. These people don't work productively; they're scared and consumed with thinking how evil the bully is.

"They spend time avoiding the person until they become sick and take time off,” said Moore.

The Productivity Commission estimated workplace bullying cost employers in Australia $10 billion per year as a result of absenteeism, staff turnover and compensation claims.

Job insecurity is one of the key reasons people may not speak out. With more employees moving into contracting roles, some fear losing their jobs as they don't have the same protection and entitlements as full time employers, said Moore.

“We have to get serious about bullying and stop hiring people with a history of bad behaviour in the first place.”

Psychologist Brad Dolph of RightPeople said employers could inadvertently create a culture of bullying when the behaviour moved down from one management level to the next. So hiring just one bully at a senior level could ultimately prove a very costly decision.

“Everyone puts their best foot forward at an interview, and these individuals can be quite charismatic during the interview process,” he said.

“We employ tools such as risk management assessments which have been specifically designed to show up overly aggressive and bullying style attitudes".

The beauty of these assessments is that they can be conducted prior to employment and used across all levels in an organisation, said Dolph.

While social media helped to bring attention to bullying among other sectors of the community, he said an increase in the number of women coming into management roles has also had an impact.

“Women no longer tolerate the gender difference issues such as the boy's club."

However, he conceded some women in positions of authority were equally capable as some men of bullying colleagues.

Double checking the candidate's previous track record and references at the interview process was critical, said Moore.

“Ask them how they would handle a particular work situation and watch their response. Tell them, if I were to ring your ex-workers what would they say about the way you performed under stress and how you worked with your colleagues?”

But what about those being bullied from the bottom up?

Business mentor, Jacob Galea, said employees could sometime gang up on their managers.

“It's a tribe mentality to bully the leader. This puts the leader at risk and can also show him up to be weak in front of his boss. Many times I've seen men and women in senior management cry or become quite emotional as they recount their bullying experience,” he said.

The first thing a victim of bullying must do is speak to the person concerned and ask them to stop, said Moore.

“The best time to approach the person is when you are not angry, then they're likely to listen. Both parties need to be relatively calm.

"Tell the bully what they said or what they did and how this has affected you. Seek ways you can work together.”

It's also important to understand why the bullying is taking place, what's causing it to happen and work towards a solution. Galea also recommends confiding in someone you trust.

“Have a good think tank session. Talk to a mentor or someone you can trust and don't avoid the problem. You can work through it, I've seen it.”


  • Must companies have procedures and values in place to avoid bullying. But also to ensure that they are seen to be doing something. But really its just proaganda. Toothless tigers, its easier just to ignore and pretend it isn't happening...

    Date and time
    September 19, 2012, 10:29AM
    • No one should have to put up with bullying yet it goes on overtly and covertly in many businesses. I left an organisation because a senior manager equal to my position was a bully, gathered like minded people around him and the CEO did not have the ba**s to discipline him. Peer pressure did not work as his ego did not allow him to see beyond his narrow world. Staff left, others who had limited external options stayed until they could move on and morale was low yet he survives to the detriment of the overall business.

      Date and time
      September 19, 2012, 10:56AM
      • @dexxtr2 You are so right! I ran a HR coaching business for professionals/ managers who wished to change careers or jobs. Businesses lost some very high performing staff, not the ones who were bullied and had their confidence shattered, the ones who judged that they could not do anything to change the bullying. They chose to leave a poisonous work environment.

        Rose Frances
        Date and time
        September 19, 2012, 5:03PM
    • This is getting ridiculous, whenever people don't get their own way or there is any kind of conflict it;s labelled as bullying and everyone has sit down and talk about their feelings like a bunch of kindergarten kids - it this mindset that is costing business not the actually bullying. In over 20 years of working I've seen maybe 3 instances that warranted further attention and they were all over 10 years ago. We currently have to have meetings to discussion some over-sensitive imbecile's perception of being bullied because they can't do their job properly every 6 - 8 weeks and HR won't allow us to dismiss anyone because they are so scared we will get sued - but they can't or won't provide any evidence of recent or similar cases that might support this.

      Here we go again
      Date and time
      September 19, 2012, 10:58AM
      • Cool - thanks for the example. You show all the readers *exactly* the kind of thing the author is talking about.

        Date and time
        September 19, 2012, 1:43PM
      • "Here we go again", you think that you not having seen it makes for a proof that something doesn't exist? Have you seen the Grand Canyon? I have. Mt. Kilamanjaro? I have, too. The inside of a Lear Jet? I could go on. Thanks for your single point of evidence saying you haven't seen bullying recently. Many others including myself have points of evidence that it still goes on.

        Readers interested in this topic should check out It has a US focus but offers interesting advice and statistics on the prevalence of bullying.

        Date and time
        September 19, 2012, 10:58PM
      • I'm not saying it doesn't happen, just that it is nowhere near the epidemic levels claimed. I can't see the air but I know it is there. I say in many cases we are pandering to the emotionally feeble and over-sensitive, while driving away the productive and useful members of staff.
        Whenever someone doesn't get their own way or their is a conflict of opinion, the person who cries "bullying" first suddenly becomes the focus of everything and ends up getting things done their way. It always seems to be the people who aren't doing their job properly or who were struggling, often because of their incompetence, not bullying. They get to use it as an excuse for everything.
        The amateur psychologists are busy attributing motives and causes to outcomes that are not there so they can justify their own positions or fell more important. You are not owed a job, you have to be productive and often work will involves difficulty or tension resolving issues or working with scant resources. When genuine victimisation does occur it is wrong and not acceptable, but people cry "bully" all the time now. It's a farce.

        Here we go again
        Date and time
        September 20, 2012, 9:31AM
      • As a young and inexperienced woman I was systematically bullied at work. My manager would stand by my desk acting friendly and then suddenly make highly personal and offensive remarks. I would reatel be called into her office and told how my work was inadequate in comparison to other more experienced employees. She threatened to fire me unless I did a particular job I felt was unethical.

        "Here we go again", was I sensitive and a little incompetent? Yes - it was my first job - of course I was. I found myself in a position of vulnerability. No-one is completely immune to that in life. Does that mean I deserved bullying? No.

        My point is that a person's abilities or personality never justify hurtful behaviour.

        I think most people would cope with a stern talking to - or even being fired - better than bullying.

        At the time I tried to speak to other management and was not heard. My manager was seen as efficient and valuable which of course outweighed my feelings. I am happy that these days there is growing awareness of bullying and its effects on productivety and mental health.

        Date and time
        September 20, 2012, 10:24AM
      • @Here we go again
        Bullying is a problem, but I agree with you that there is also a problem of treating every trivial complaint as bullying.

        In my previous workplace, there was a person who seldom did any work. On a particularly busy day, one of my colleagues tried to get her to do some work, then asked her how things were progressing when nothing had been done for a while. She took offence at this and reported him for bullying. This pattern of behaviour was repeated pretty much every subsequent time they worked together. Management either took her side as she was apparently the victim or else apportioned blame equally.

        Several months later, he committed suicide. I don't know whether the above was a cause, but it surely can't have helped.

        Date and time
        September 20, 2012, 10:43AM
      • In my experience it's the false claims that are the bigger issue. If my claim can be taken as dismissal of the actual bullying, which they aren't intending to do, then why are others permitted to dismiss what I have experienced with over zealous bullying claims? In discussion most people I know appear to have similar views, it's mainly the media beating up the bullying epidemic, you try to avoid simplifying the issue and you are immediately demonised. . . .

        Here we go again
        Date and time
        September 20, 2012, 12:58PM

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