Workplace Bullying

Many people think of bullying as persecuting or ganging up on individuals. Most bullying is not so obvious.

Bossing people around, intimidating, threatening or keeping them under pressure is also bullying.

This is the most common form of bullying in Australian workplaces, and is a risk to people¡¦s mental health and safety.

Workplace bullying is a serious health and safety hazard. It is usually characterised by:

„X Unreasonable demands and impossible targets
„X Restrictive and petty work rules
„X Being required to perform tasks without adequate training
„X Being forced to stay back to finish work or additional tasks
„X Compulsory overtime, unfair rostering or allocation of work
„X Constant, intrusive surveillance or monitoring
„X No say in how your job is done
„X Interference with personal belongings or sabotage of work
„X Shouting, or using abusive language
„X Open or implied threat of the sack, or demotion
„X Oppressive, unhappy work environment
„X People afraid to speak up about conditions, behaviours or health and safety


Bullying can happen between any co-workers, or by clients (horizontal relationship), customers, contractors or others from outside the workplace.

More often though, bullying is done by employers and managers in positions in authority who are over- worked and over- stressed (vertical relationship).


Bullying causes a range of symptoms including:
„X Headaches
„X Sleep difficulties
„X Skin rashes
„X Loss of confidence
„X Tearfulness
„X Difficulty concentrating
„X Gastrointestinal problems
„X Nausea

Other serious effects of bullying are:
„X Anxiety and depression
„X Suicidal thoughts
„X Heart disease
„X Stress-related illness


The World Health Organization found that people experiencing anxiety or depression find it more difficult to manage daily tasks like work, shopping, exercise and hobbies, than people suffering with physical conditions such as arthritis, diabetes and back pain.

Changes at work, brought about by deregulation, privatisation, restructuring, downsizing and technological change, have contributed to an erosion of working conditions for many Australians. Casual employment and job insecurity create a climate where people are increasingly powerless and at risk of being bullied.

The push for ever-higher productivity in an increasingly competitive environment can result in bullying tactics being used to drive workers to the limit. Workers get the blame for poor performance or low productivity, no matter how well they do their jobs.

Everyone has the right to dignity and respect, and to a safe and healthy environment at work. If bullying is happening in your workplace, there are ways to deal with it.

„X Get the issues out in the open by talking with fellow workers.
„X Hold a meeting, away from the workplace if necessary.
„X Get the workplace health and safety representative, Occupational Health and Safety committee or other delegates to take up the issue.
„X Contact your union for assistance.

Under occupational health and safety legislation, employers have a legal duty to control all health and safety hazards in the workplace. This includes organisational structures and behaviours which may lead to bullying.

Employers have to consult with their employees about policies and procedures to eliminate all hazards and risks from the workplace. There is no excuse for causing or allowing bullying.

If an employer will not act on these issues, health and safety representatives can issues provisional improvement notices. These are official notices to an employer that a health and safety issue exists and needs to be fixed.

„X For more information or advice on your situation, contact your union or the ACTU Helpline on 1300 362 223.
„X Your local GP
„X Psychologist (contact the Australian Psychological Society on 1800 333 497)
„X Mental Health Information Service for more information and services in your area on 02 9816 5688 (Sydney) or 1800 674 200 (Country NSW).

Being bossed around is bad for your health. Australian Council of Trade Unions

The information provided is to be used for educational purposes only. It should not be used as a substitute for seeking professional care in the diagnosis and treatment of mental health disorders. Information may be reproduced with an acknowledgement to the Mental Health Association NSW. This, and other fact sheets are available for download from This fact sheet was last updated in Spring, 2001

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