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Workplace bullying harassment and mental health

Bullying, harassment and other poor workplace behaviours are all serious problems.

They can cause significant work-related stress, which can lead to anxiety, depression and suicide.

These behaviours don’t just hurt the people involved. They affect others in the workplace and impact an organisation's ability to achieve its goals.

Bullying, harassment and poor workplace behaviours can happen in any type of workplace. And they can happen to anyone – from casual workers through to CEOs.

What is workplace bullying?

What is workplace bullying?
  • is directed towards a worker or group of workers. 
  • creates a risk to health and safety.

Instances of one-off behaviour are not bullying. However, it's important to deal with one-off issues, as these have the potential to get worse.

Reasonable management actions are also not bullying. These include things like performance management and directing tasks.

Learn more about workplace bullying on the SafeWork Australia website.

What is sexual harassment in the workplace?

Workplace sexual harassment can take many forms. It can be repeated or a one-off incident. Sexual harassment can cause harm to the person it is directed at, as well as anyone who witnesses the behaviour.

Learn more about workplace sexual harassment on the SafeWork Australia website.

Causes of bullying, harassment and poor behaviours at work

Bullying and other poor behaviours are often thought of as an issue with the individual person. Yet workplace risk factors are actually the main drivers of poor work behaviours, including bullying. Bullying and other poor behaviours are best dealt with by:
  • taking steps to prevent them from occurring 
  • responding quickly if they do occur. 

The most effective way to stop these behaviours is to take a strong and consistent approach towards:
  • creating a positive and respectful work culture in which poor behaviours are not tolerated
  • preventing poor behaviour. 

Examples of bullying and poor work behaviours

Poor work behaviours can take on different forms. They can:
  • be verbal, physical or online
  • take place outside of work and outside of work hours 
  • be intentional or unintentional. 

Examples can include:
  • being abusive, insulting or offensive 
  • being aggressive or intimidating
  • making belittling or humiliating comments
  • treating someone differently from others in a negative way
  • playing practical jokes
  • giving unfair feedback or making unfair complaints about someone
  • excluding someone from work activities
  • setting unfair timelines
  • constantly changing deadlines 
  • setting tasks that are much too simple or difficult for a worker's role
  • withholding information, supervision, consultation or resources needed to work
  • spreading harmful information or rumours about a person 
  • changing work arrangements (e.g. a roster or leave) that you know are difficult for a worker to achieve. 
Pushing, shoving, tripping, grabbing and any unwanted physical contact may be assault. This should be taken seriously. Attacks or threats with equipment, knives, guns, clubs or any object that can be used as a weapon should also be reported.

If behaviour involves assault, violence or fear for safety, you should contact the police.

If you experience or witness any such behaviours, it can affect your health or wellbeing. If it is, make time to talk to someone about how you're feeling.

Find a mental health professional

The impacts of workplace bullying and harassment

Bullying and harassment can affect you in several ways.

It can cause a lot of stress, which can lead to mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression.

People who are experiencing workplace bullying or harassment can also be at increased risk of suicide.

Bullying and harassment can also cause:
  • panic attacks and disturbed sleep 
  • reduced self-esteem and confidence
  • feelings of loneliness and isolation
  • impacts to relationships both in and out of work
  • reduced work performance
  • physical illness (such as muscle tension, headaches and stomach problems). 

What to do if you’re being bullied or harassed

If you’re being bullied or harassed, it might be tempting to try and make it go away by ignoring it. Or by avoiding the person involved. This does not always work.

Actions to consider

  • Find out if your workplace has policies on bullying and harassment. 
  • Take notes describing what happened – including when and where it occurred as well as anyone else who was present. 
  • Advise someone appropriate at your work, for example, your manager. If your workplace has a policy in place, it should outline who else you could speak to.
A number of organisations can help:

Work health and safety regulators can provide advice on raising issues of bullying and harassment at work.

Find out who regulates and enforces work health and safety laws where you live.

If the issue can’t be resolved in the workplace, or if it continues even after you’ve taken action, you can apply for an order to stop the bullying.

Visit the Fair Work Commission website.

If you have experienced assault or fear for your safety, contact the police.

Seek support for your mental health

It can help to talk about what you’re going through.

This could be by contacting an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) if your workplace has one. If you don’t have an EAP, a GP can be a good place to start. We can also help you find other support that’s right for you. This could include talking to our counsellors.

Learn how to get mental health support.

Supporting someone at work

You might become aware that someone in your workplace is being bullied or harassed. You might be present when it’s happening. There are steps you can take to help.

When you witness workplace bullying or harassment 

If you’re present when someone in your workplace is being bullied or harassed:
  • call it out at the time if you feel safe to do so 
  • record the details of what happened 
  • report the risk to an appropriate person 
  • talk to the person being bullied about what happened. Check they’re OK, and encourage them to seek support. 

Supporting someone being bullied or harassed

Bullying and harassment are serious issues in any workplace.

If you're worried that workplace bullying is impacting the mental health and wellbeing of someone in your workplace, it helps to be informed. Then talk to them.

See SafeWork Australia's information on bullying, including advice on how to respond

Read the Fair Work Ombudsman's advice on bullying in the workplace

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