NOTE: You can adapt the anti-bullying guidelines in this topic to deal with other forms of workplace harassment, including cyber-bullying.

Bullying is the deliberate, hurtful, and repeated mistreatment of one person by another.The perpetrator’s desire to control the other person sometimes causes bullying, which not only undermines organisational peformance but can also destroy employees. In recent times, workplace legislation and media disclosure have revealed bullying as a significant issue in many organisations. If you have personally been the victim of bullying in your workplace, the following advice will prove helpful…

Management's job is to make sure there is no bullying in the workplace1. Be sure you are being bullied.

Do not confuse bullying with the stresses and pressures of normal worklife. We must meet deadlines, do more than resources sometimes allow, deal with difficult colleagues, perform under adverse circumstances. From time to time, we all experience conflict, differences of opinion, perfectionist bosses, personal rejection, criticism, and personality clashes. Bullying goes beyond the strains of daily worklife.

2. Do nothing. Ignore the bullying.

In career terms, weigh up your options and circumstances: It may be in your best interests careerwise to ignore the aggressor. The bullying could stop if the bully feels no progress is being made with you – although, on the other hand, the bullying could worsen.

3. Confront the bully assertively yourself.

If used early, this can be an effective strategy, especially if the ‘bullying’ was unintended behaviour. Meet with the bully in private, detail the behaviour and its effect on you, and ask that the behaviour you find unacceptable cease. Or, ask a third party, such as a senior colleague or mutual acquaintance, to raise your concerns informally with the aggressor.

4. Seek support.

Whether you decide to ignore the bullying or to take further action, you may wish to explore various sources for support and advice. For example, bullying affects mind and body: your doctor can help – and medical records could be important later. Your trade union or professional association can provide legal advice, and family, friends, and close colleagues can give valuable moral support. Relevant government agencies can also provide appropriate advice. And check out www.bullybusters.org as well.

5. Gather evidence.

If you are convinced that you are a victim of bullying behaviour, and your informal requests have not resolved the problem, you will need to consider taking more formal action. To do this, you will need documented data to support your case:

  • Familiarise yourself with a copy of your organisation’s policy on bullying or harassment.
  • Log every incident of bullying – the action, time, date, and witness.
  • File any relevant documentation such as memos or e-mails.
  • Explore the possibility of gaining the support of witnesses.

Armed with such information, you are better placed to consider adopting one of the following options…

6. Make an informal complaint.

Approach your supervisor and discuss your concerns. (If the bully is your supervisor, you’ll need to talk to the supervisor’s supervisor.) The supervisor should ‘have a word’ with the bully to help resolve the issue without having to take formal action.

7. Consider making a formal complaint.

If your informal approach proves fruitless, there may be a reason for this:

  • the organisation has no anti-bullying policy, and no response is an attempt to deny the issue
  • the bully has denied any guilt
  • the identified behaviour may be acceptable in the organisation
  • the supervisor may not believe your accusations
  • the organisation may be unwilling to deal with the bully, because of his or her standing, even though the actions are provable.

In making a formal complaint through the appropriate internal channels, be aware that you should:

  • be absolutely sure of your facts before making any accusations
  • have a documented record of events from the time your problem began, including times, places, witnesses
  • be familiar with procedures as detailed in the organisation’s anti-bullying or harassment policy
  • put your complaint in writing, and request that its receipt be acknowledged in writing.

8. Make an external complaint.

For organisational inaction, or bullying charges of a serious nature, you can turn to relevant outside agencies. Criminal action can be taken for such serious offences as threats of or actual physical assault, damage to property, and stalking. Complaints can also be made directly to relevant government agencies in those cases where employees have been treated or dismissed unfairly, harshly, and unjustly or for invalid or unlawful reasons in relation to, for example, sex, racial, political or disability discrimination, and in human rights, workplace health and safety, and industrial relations matters.

9. Look for another job.

When all else fails, or you do not want to challenge the workplace culture, or you find your situation intolerable, resign. Remember, however, that you may receive no reference, you may not find equal work, and you may have to explain your resignation to a potential employer. But this may be the only realistic option for some.

Management skills are available in Global Training Institute's management courses.

As a supervisor or manager, it is really important to be aware of what’s going on within your organisation. If bullying is occurring, it is vital that you address it immediately. Handling conflict and other situations such as bullying are essential management skills. They take discernment and care. 

If you’re interested in developing your management skills and formalising your experience with an accredited qualification, check out Global Training Institute’s online qualifications including the Certificate IV in Frontline Management, the Diploma of Management and the Advanced Diploma of Management. We also offer short courses to help sharpen specific soft skills. These include Supervising Others, Leadership and Influence, Conflict Resolution and more. For more information about these things, please contact us