Bullying in the workplace

Bullying harms people and being bullied at work can make life miserable. Bullying is serious, so know how to stop it happening and where to get help.

WorkSafe New Zealand describes workplace bullying as repeated and unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker or a group of workers that can lead to physical and psychological harm. Every workplace should aim to deal with bullying effectively.

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Bullying is more than verbal, written or physical abuse, it also includes more subtle types of abuse such as:

  • being given unachievable workloads or deadlines
  • being excluded or discriminated against
  • being made to feel as though you’ve been set up to fail.

The bully may be a colleague, manager, customer or client.

You have the right to work in a safe place free from violence, harassment and bullying. If you think you’re being bullied at work, here are our tips to make sure you have the right support.

1. Gather information

Every time you feel bullied, keep records of what happened, how you felt, what was said, the time and date of the incident and if there were any witnesses present. Documenting it can help reduce the burden of trying to recall specific events or times. 

2. Seek advice and support

Going through this alone is daunting so get support early and throughout the process. If you're being bullied, start by talking with a trusted work colleague, whānau or friend about what’s happening at work. They may be able to help you get a ‘sense check’ that what you
re experiencing is unreasonable behaviour. Your support person can also be there for you in meetings.

Other sources of advice include:

  • a health and safety representative
  • your human resources (HR) department
  • your union representative
  • your employee assistance programme
  • Citizens Advice Bureau
  • helplines such as Lifeline (free call on 0800 543 354).

3. Approach the other party if you feel you can

If you feel safe and confident doing so, try approaching the person who is bullying you and let them know that their behaviour is unwanted and unacceptable. If you're not sure about how to approach them, seek advice from a friend, colleague or manager. If this is stressful or if you don’t feel safe, you don’t need to approach the other party alone.

4. Submit a formal complaint

Businesses are obliged to take all complaints seriously. Find out what your organisation’s procedures are concerning bullying so you can follow the correct procedure when you make a complaint. There should also be information about what to expect once your complaint has been received.

5. Look after yourself

Bullying can take a toll on your health, wellbeing and relationships. It’s important to know how to look after yourself at this time and seek help from friends, whānau, colleagues or a health care professional. You may feel:

  • anxious, stressed, tired, and burnt out
  • helpless and like you've lost control
  • negative about yourself or have low self-esteem
  • concerned about your mental health
  • unhappy.

If you find you are struggling with your health and wellbeing at home, don’t hesitate to seek help or talk about it with a trusted whānau member of friend.

Support

Anxiety NZ Trust 0800 ANXIETY (0800 269 4389) day or night
Anxiety support groups 
Helplines and Support Mental Health Foundation, NZ
Lifeline 0800 543 354 (0800 LIFELINE) or free text 4357 (HELP)
Samaritans 0800 726 666 
Citizens Advice Bureau 
Community law free legal help throughout New Zealand
Human Rights Commission for complaints about discrimination

Learn more

Examples of bullying behaviour Worksafe, NZ  
Bullying at work – Advice for workers Worksafe, NZ   
Bullying, harassment and discrimination Employment New Zealand, NZ 
Migrant exploitation Employment NZ
Bullying prevention toolbox WorkSafe NZ

References

  1. Bullying prevention toolbox WorkSafe NZ
  2. Workplace bullying Australian Human Rights Commission, Australia, 2011
Credits: Health Navigator Editorial Team. Last reviewed: 24 Aug 2022