fbpx Skip to main content

Have you ever been bullied?

If you have, you are not alone.

Australian workplaces have the dubious honour of having the highest rates of bullying at around 6.8% compared to 1 to 4% internationally.

Shocking? Yes.

Acceptable? Not at any level.

The problem of bullying is it denies a person the freedom and ability to perform to their true capability. Not only that it costs each and every one of us big time in terms of health, wellbeing, performance and profit margins.

 Bullying is an insidious, pervasive and expensive problem.

The Workplace Bullying Project Team at Griffith University estimated the financial cost of bullying in 2013 at between $6 and $13 BILLION dollars a year through lost productivity, absenteeism, staff turnover and poor morale.

A workplace that chooses to ignore a bullying culture is a workplace that absolves itself of true leadership.

I use the word ignore, because few workplaces would condone a bullying culture. The problem is denial of its existence robs them of the opportunity to resolve the problems bullying brings.

What is bullying?

 Dr Anne Wyatt, senior lecturer and OSH consultant at NSW, and workplace bullying expert, makes the distinction between bullying and harassment:

“Harassment can be a single instance of offensive behaviour which usually involves race, age, sex or other criteria that come under anti-discrimination legislation. Bullying is a pattern of unreasonable behaviour and is defined as a workplace hazard. Often, there is no proof and no witnesses, and even if work colleagues know what is going on, they tend not to speak up.” 

 Bullying arrives by stealth.

 Dave never saw it coming. A respected and experienced engineer in the company he worked for, he loved his job until the appointment of a new manager. While the new manager smiled and shook his hand warmly when introduced, it was soon apparent that there would be no warmth in their working relationship.

Too late Dave realised he was being undermined at every turn. He was belittled in front of his peers, his judgement continuously questioned and critical group emails sent out every week.

In a state of shock, disbelief and bewilderment, Dave became at a loss of what to do.

His colleagues sympathised but said nothing; fearful they would become the next victim or put their own careers at risk.

Dave’s performance plummeted, and he sank into a deep depression requiring prolonged time off work and psychological help.

Bullying is a growing problem

While reasons of family disharmony and difficult childhoods are commonly trotted out as to why people become bullies there is something else going on, and it comes down to survival and power.

Under stress the human brain reverts to survival mode. The modern workplace is often a very stressful place with longer working hours, heavier and more complex workloads. This can lead to shorter fuses, loss of perspective, increased intolerance to perceived shortcomings and lack of empathy. Under stress our behaviour can be a completely different animal to when we are in a more non-stressed state

Add in different personalities, different cultural backgrounds and leadership styles and it’s a potential recipe for bully heaven.

Bullies seek power. They deploy their tactics to manoeuvre their way to a favourable position for promotion by demonstrating their superior status and undermining others. Think Frank Underwood in House of Cards.

Status threat should never be taken lightly. We experience social pain from being ignored, being excluded from meetings, eye-rolling, nasty office gossip, rumour mongering, or being sworn or yelled at. The neural pathways for social pain are very similar to those used for physical pain meaning we experience social pain in the same way – it hurts! Loss of social status is accompanied by loss of self-esteem, confidence and competence.

Which is why building greater brain awareness and learning how to manage our thinking state, especially when under threat is important for every brain at work.

The THRIVE AT WORK workshop is designed to help managers and leaders tackle the challenges posed by social threat, manipulative behaviour and bullying in the workplace. It provides practical tips on how to recognise and minimise the threat response to build resilience, restore trust and create collaboration.

If you would like to discuss how running THRIVE AT WORK can help your workplace – let’s set up a time to talk by emailing jenny@drjennybrockis.com

I’d love to hear your comments on this important topic, which you can comment here


Dr Jenny Brockis

Dr Jenny Brockis is a medical practitioner and internationally board-certified lifestyle medicine physician, workplace health and wellbeing consultant, podcaster, keynote speaker and best-selling author. Her new book 'Thriving Mind: How to Cultivate a Good Life' (Wiley) is available online and at all good bookstores.

Leave a Reply