Although it’s a bit of a running joke for Aussies (Work? Yuk!) feeling stressed, anxious or depressed about your work life is not normal and could be an indication that you’re experiencing workplace bullying.

What is workplace bullying?

The Australian Human Rights Commission defines workplace bullying as verbal, physical, social or psychological abuse by your employer, manager, another person or group of people at work. They point out that it can happen in any workplace, to volunteers, students, interns, apprentices and permanent employees.

For some, it’s difficult to get past the term “bullying”, which most of us are familiar with from our younger years at school and can evoke images of name-calling or physically rough or harmful behaviour. Although workplace bullying can look like this, it is most often much more covert and insidious, with subtle behaviours aimed at excluding, humiliating or unsettling you in your work.

Why is it a big deal?

Many people tend to downplay workplace matters, feeling that negative experiences at work might be “normal”, and so will stay quiet and endure bullying behaviour. Let’s look at it this way – even though we often feel like our “real life” exists outside of work, many of us spend more of our waking hours each week in a workplace than we do at home or in other social or relational contexts. For many people, work is a crucial part of their identity and is a crucial component of healthy self-esteem. If you are experiencing bullying behaviour at work, you are experiencing abuse which can lead to significant long-term psychological and emotional damage. This is a big deal and it is not ok.

So what can I do?

Let’s look at four different approaches to responding to bullying behaviour in the workplace.

  1. Validate your experience

    First and foremost, it is important to admit to yourself that you are experiencing bullying in the workplace. Talk to your partner, friends or a trusted colleague and describe your experience. What do they have to say about it? If you see a look of shock or sympathy in their eyes, that is a good sign that your experience is not normal.

  2. Confront the bully

    If you feel safe to do so, it might be important to tell the person who has been bullying you that you do not like their behaviour, and that you would like them to stop. Even if their behaviour appears blatantly aggressive or unkind, the person may not always realise that their behaviour is causing a negative impact.

  3. Access workplace resources

    Does your workplace have a Human Resources department? Is there a superior, manager or director you can speak to directly about this behaviour? It is a human right to be safe in our workplace. Even if it feels scary, speaking to someone higher up can provide you with support and other avenues for the workplace to address the behaviour head-on.

  4. Take it further

    If your workplace does not have supportive resources available to you, or if the bullying is coming from the top (i.e. your manager or director is leading or colluding in the behaviour), it might be necessary to seek help beyond your workplace. Links have been provided to websites and resources that might help at the end of this article.

Seek support

It is common for individuals who experience abuse to attribute the behaviour to their personal failings, i.e. “I have been targeted because something is wrong with me”, rather than other explanations, e.g. “that person uses aggression to cope with their feelings”, or “they needed to make me feel small so that they could feel big”. Workplace bullying can also be triggering for survivors of past or current abuse. Seeking support from a therapist or a support group can help to provide perspective, using an objective other or group of others to help reframe and make sense of your experience.

Links and Resources

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Article written by: Kate McLisky

Image credit: Arlington Research on Unsplash

All content is created and published for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice. Always seek the guidance of a qualified health professional.

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