Dealing with bullying

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In the age of #MeToo, the awareness of inappropriate behaviour within the workplace has never been more in the spotlight. Abuse and bullying, not just of a sexual nature, comes in many forms and the workplace can, on occasions, be a breeding ground for inappropriate behaviour.

SafeWork Australia defines workplace bullying as ‘any ongoing harmful or threatening behaviour by a person or group of people in your workplace that creates a risk to your health and safety’. It can happen in any kind of workplace and the bully isn’t always someone in a position of power – the bully can just as easily be a colleague.

Workplace bullying includes insults, yelling, swearing, hurtful comments, making fun of you or your work, spreading rumours or gossip, excluding you from workplace activities or conversations, playing mind games or ‘ganging up’, through to physical attacks.

These forms of bullying can have dire consequences for your mental and physical wellbeing.


According to the Bully Zero Australia Foundation, it can lead to severe psychological and emotional distress, sleep disturbances, impaired cognitive ability and feelings of anxiety and apprehension, physical symptoms like stomach aches and back pain. Other symptoms include headaches, depression and anxiety and loss of self-confidence, low morale, feeling rejected or being unable to trust others.

There are many procedures in place to deal with bullying and, by law, if you report an incident, your employer has to go through a formal process to handle your complaint.

If you find yourself in this unfortunate situation, start by finding your work’s official bullying policy.

You might have been given a copy of this when you first started. It will give you an idea of who is the best person to talk to and what you need to do.

While you are waiting for the powers-that-be to take action, it is important to take care of yourself.

The negative health effects of being bullied can be ongoing, even after the situation has been resolved, so it’s vital to know how to look after yourself now to prevent any further problems developing.

Speak out

The recruitment expert Michael Page recommends you speak up: ‘You may feel nervous about telling your manager that you are being bullied, but it is their job to make sure your work environment is safe. If you don’t feel comfortable talking to your manager, take your concerns to someone more senior or speak to your human resources team. Don’t hide your suffering for fear of embarrassment – it is not you who is the problem.’

Michael Page also recommends you write everything down, including the date and time each incident takes place. It will give you some peace of mind knowing you have specific details should you need them.

The recruiter adds: ‘It is usually not worth confronting the bully yourself; instead, keep your distance and avoid dealing with the person unless absolutely necessary.

‘Feeling stuck and like there is no way out can have repercussions for your mental health, so look for support from friends, family members, or call a support service if you need emotional support. Organisations that provide counselling and advice are also available in your country, either by phone or online – don't be afraid to reach out for help at any time.’

Also, try to keep your cool and give yourself the upper hand. It is good to be assertive if necessary, but avoid getting emotional if possible – this can be enough to stop the bullying but, at the very least, you will reduce your own stress levels.

This article was first published in the August 2019 edition of Student Accountant magazine

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