What Workplace Bullying Is (and What It Isn’t)

I think the word ‘bullying’ is being used way too often these days. It seems that any time two parties have a disagreement about something, one side gets accused of bullying the other.

From my experience in mediating disputes between colleagues, more often than not, the challenges are not bullying at all.

One tactic that I have seen far too often are bullying complaints lodged against a manager for raising a performance related matter.

When investigated, the bullying complaint is unsubstantiated due to the “act” being a reasonable management action .

Having said that, I have seen some pretty clear-cut examples, of bullying behaviour.

On the other side of the coin, it still amazes me how some behaviours can be tolerated for so long, despite it affecting so many people in the workplace, and then dismissed with a “That’s what they are like” comment.

What Is Bullying?

The Fair Work Commission defines bullying as:

Bullying at work occurs when:

  • a person or a group of people repeatedly behaves unreasonably towards a worker or a group of workers at work


  • the behaviour creates a risk to health and safety.

While it is easy to think that the ‘safety’ part of that definition mean physical injuries, it is worth remembering that physical harm occurs in only the worst examples of workplace bullying.

Some of the more common examples of behaviour that may be considered to be workplace bullying if they are repeated, unreasonable and create a risk to a worker’s health and safety include:

  • Abusive, insulting or offensive language or comments
  • Unjustified criticism or complaints
  • Deliberately excluding someone from workplace activities
  • Withholding information that is vital for effective work performance
  • Setting unreasonable timelines or constantly changing deadlines
  • Setting tasks that are unreasonably below or beyond a person’s skill level
  • Denying access to information, supervision, or resources to the detriment of the worker
  • Spreading misinformation or malicious rumours
  • Changing work arrangements, such as rosters and leave, to deliberately inconvenience If ever you have been on the receiving end of such behaviour, it certainly does come at a cost.

What Bullying Isn’t

Now that we have a bit of an understanding about the sorts of behaviours that could be classed as workplace bullying, now it’s time to talk about those that aren’t.

These include:

  • Talking to a colleague about their unsatisfactory or inappropriate behaviour
  • Not selecting a worker for promotion where a reasonable process has been followed
  • Accessing support from colleagues
  • Differences of opinion and conflicts (but these could easily escalate to bullying)
  • A single incident of unreasonable behaviour, but this should not be ignored
  • Giving reasonable direction to team members
  • Taking disciplinary action when a reasonable process has been followed

The Fair Work Commission has put out a short video to help understand workplace bullying better.

UPDATED: 03 Nov 2018. Fixed grammar and spelling.

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1 Comment

  1. I think you made a faux pas in the intro sentence to the behaviours that don’t constitute bullying.
    The sentence should say
    ….Now it’s time to talk about those that aren’t!

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