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Bullies at work by Ann Andrews

Get the low-down on bullying

Bullying isn't new, it has been around for as long as there have been humans on earth. Bullying is about power and control - pure and simple. Sadly, for the person being bullied, the results can be absolutely devastating. At worst the target will eventually leave to work somewhere less unpleasant; at best they will stay; grit their teeth, get more and more miserable, and less and less productive.

It is estimated that workplace bullying affects 1 in 4 people (Source: Workplaces Against Violence -

Because bullying is such an emotional topic, in this article I want to cover:

    * What bullying (in the workplace) is - a definition
    * The difference between harassment and bullying - and there is a difference
    * Tips and tools if you suspect you are being bullied
    * Tips and tools for an organization to identify and deal with bullying
    * Some stats
    * The costs of bullying
    * Further information

WHAT BULLYING (in the workplace) IS      

Bullying is the abuse of position and/or power. It is about actions that are deliberate, debilitating and repeated. The target will be bullied until they either leave the organization or is totally subjugated. And then the bully will find their next target.


    * Harassment is usually linked to gender, colour, race, disability and/or prejudice of some kind.
    * The person being harassed knows immediately that they are being harassed
    * Harassment is obvious - these people want an audience; they are looking for approval.
    * Harassment is about bravado, machismo (or whatever the female equivalent of machismo is). It is about looking good in front of their mates (or co-workers)
    * People who use these tactics often lack self-discipline; they are almost always insecure and are very likely to have personal inadequacies
    * Bullying, however, is usually directed at one person who is selected because they are bright, popular, competent and vulnerable
    * Bullying is about envy and jealousy
    *  The person being bullied may not realize they are being bullied for quite some time
    * Bullying is mostly done in private so that others don't see, and so that there are no witnesses
    * Bullies are inadequate in all areas of interpersonal skills and lack discipline in their behavioral skills

Some people are both harassers and bullies.


Tip No 1
Never, ever confront a bully. Not in private and not in public.  They have been playing their game for a long time; they are    skilled at it. All confronting them will achieve is to actually make your situation even worse.

Tip No 2
Try never to be alone with them - not always possible I know.

Tip No 3
Keep notes - find a quiet place after an incident and jot down the  key points of what just happened - what was said, what was  threatened and what you said and did in response. This will also help you to calm your nerves.

Tip No 4
Let someone know what is happening. Do be very careful who you choose to confide in  - telling the wrong person can risk them letting the bully know you are making complaints, and then RuleNo 1 comes back into play again with even greater force.

Tip No 5
Start planning your exit - whether that is to another department or to another organization, it really doesn't matter - the longer you stay the more stressed you will become and the worse the effects will be on your health and your self-esteem. Remember that bullies do not give up. Once they have selected you as a target, they will continue bullying you until you leave or are totally subjugated. 

Tip No 6
And this is a really important tip. Know that this isn't YOUR problem. You are not to blame in any way. It is their problem and the problem of the organization for not recognizing what is happening and for not dealing with the situation, because if the    person has been with the organization a long time, you can guarantee that you will not be the first person they have done this to.

Tip No 7
Sadly laying a complaint about bullying is often one person's word against another, and if the ‘other' person is in a management position, the manager seems to be believed more than the employee.


Tip No 1
Understand what bullying is and the harm it can do your people and your organization.

Tip No 2
Don't confuse strong management with bullying - there is a whole world of difference.

Tip No 3
Make sure you have a bullying policy in place and make sure that policy is communicated and enforced.

Tip No 4
Make sure your managers and team leaders are trained in identifying and dealing with bullies.

Tip No 5
Watch for the signs that a bully is at work - they are actually very obvious. The signs are showing up in any department where there is:

    * High absenteeism
    * High sickness rates
    * High turnover
    * High litigation costs


    * 66% of organizations have no bullying protocols
    * 23% of bullies work alone
    * 77% coerce others to bully alongside them
    * Only about 4% of bullies are ever punished

Bullyonline also cites instances where the bully complains of being bullied by the target to deflect the heat from themselves!

According to statistics which appeared in The Australian Weekend Herald (7/7/07):

    * 74% of Australians claim to have been bullied in the workplace
    * 77% said bullies were more likely to get ahead at work
    * 54% said there was a boys' club
    * 71% of those being bullied dreaded going to work
    * 46% said being bullied had made them physically ill
    * 67% said they worked with someone they would sack if given the chance
    * Women are more likely to be bullied than men.
    * 52% of bullies are women (See the Her Business stats on women as bullies)
    * 79% of women say they have been bullied v 69% of men
    * Less than 1% take legal action
    * Approx 20% of people who bully are teachers, lecturers and school admin staff
    * 12% are health care professionals
    * 10% are from the social services and caring occupations (including care of the elderly)
    * 6-8% are from the voluntary and non-profit sector
    * 65% of enquiries bullyonline receives are from the public sector
    * 30% are from the private
    * 90% of cases involve a manager bullying a subordinate
    * 8% are peer-to-peer
    * 2% are subordinates bullying their manager

HER BUSINESS Magazine Jan/Feb 2006

    * 58% of bullies are women
    * Women bullies target another woman 87% of the time
    * Male bullies choose women targets 71% of the time


In a recent British court case, a bank worker was awarded NZ$2.2m for being bullied at work. (

An Australian technician at British Aerospace won A$342,989 damages for a major depressive illness contracted while working for years under a supervisor who was often drunk, asleep and just plain incompetent.

A probation officer in NZ was awarded NZ$1m damages for injury to health caused by work overload which his employer did nothing to reduce

And a US survey of 9000 federal employees indicated a cost of US$180m in lost work time and productivity through bullying. (Her Business Jan/Feb 2006)

Victoria, Australia has paid out A$34 million in compensation to almost 1,000 teachers and principles for stress and injury to health caused by excessive workloads, abuse, lack of support and having to deal with difficult students.

What a lot of bullies also fail to realize, is that what they are doing is actually against the law. In New Zealand, intimidation (and if bullying someone isn't intimidation, I don't know what is) attracts a maximum penalty of 3 months in prison or a fine up to $2000, whereas the maximum penalty for assault (and pushing and shoving constitutes assault), is 6 months imprisonment or a fine up to $4,000.

Employers in South Australia can be fined up to $100,000 for failing to adequately manage bullying behaviour.


And to download an example of a bullying policy for your workplace go to (also has a free helpline)

Ann Andrews, CSP, is a team specialist. She has a background in HR and Industrial Relations.

If you would like to know more about how to get Ann to be a facilitator for your team, or to get her to speak at your next conference, go to and download her profile.

If you would like more information on leadership, managing difficult people or even how to motivate and inspire your people, go to for an amazing supply of business books and articles.

Ann Andrews CSP
MD, Teams From Woe To Go and The Corporate Tool-boxTM
Email -
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Dr Ann Villiers, learning guide, professional speaker and author, is Australia's only Mental Nutritionist® specialising in mind and language practices that help people build flexible thinking, confident speaking and quality connections with people. Visit to learn more about Mental Nutrition. Visit for free resources unlocking the mysteries of public service jobs.

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