The impact bullying can have on your wellbeing

When we think of bullying, we often revert to children falling out at school or unkind behaviours occurring in the playground.  We may even recite in our head the phrase “sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me“.  It’s common for our thoughts to go there as bullying is something many people have grown up with. However bullying should be taken seriously and is not something that is just happening to our children. Bullying is also occurring with the workplace and is having a detrimental impact on the health and wellbeing of individuals.  Due to the consequences of bullying (which can range from anxiety, fatigue, burnout, depression, suicide and deterioration in health); bullying has been deemed a Global Public Health Issue (Worksafe NZ, 2017; Nazir, 2018; ERO, 2019; Srabstein, J. C., & Leventhal, B. L., 2020; Morton et al, 2020). 

As well as leading to health and wellbeing issues, bullying within the workplace is also a costly issue that can lead to a high turn-over of staff, increased levels of sick leave, and an unpleasant workplace environment which can impact upon performance, commitment and motivation (Worksafe NZ, 2017).    

So what is bullying?

Workplace bullying has been identified as:                                                            

repeated and unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker or a group of workers that can lead to physical or psychological harm” (Worksafe NZ, 2017, p8). 

The difficulty with workplace bullying is that it is usually subtle and often aimed towards individuals who have specific qualities that the bully feels threatened by (Needham, 2019).  These qualities range from being competent in their role, being popular, having empathy, emotional intelligence, as well as being forgiving, proud of their reputation and having high tolerance levels (Bullying Online, n.d.). 

There are also different forms of bullying which can range from institutional bullying (e.g. unrealistic workloads and deadlines), task related bullying (e.g. information being withheld so that work cannot be carried out and constant criticism) as well as personal attacks such as belittling and being made to feel guilty or being excluded and ignored (Worksafe NZ, 2017).

Due to the subtle yet manipulative nuances of a bully, tactics played by the bully intentionally causes mistrust amongst workers which results in the target feeling isolated as others withdraw and fear inhibits communication taking place (Needham, 2019).

So what can we do about bullying?

Tackling bullying can be incredibly difficult as scenarios often take place with no witnesses and becomes one person’s word against another (Needham, 2019).  Therefore it is important to minimise the risk of bullying occurring and one way of doing this is to ensure workers are educated and have an awareness of what bullying is and the consequences (Worksafe NZ, 2017).  This empowers people with knowledge which can help support the target and can reduce the power a bully carries as they often use tactics to isolate and intimidate. 

Worksafe NZ (2017) also recommends other preventative measures such as:

  • having transparent policies, processes and systems in place so that workers know what to do and who to go to if there are particular issues within the workplace,
  • having good relationships at work that promote a positive culture whereby staff have a shared purpose, diversity is recognised and respected, and an inclusive culture is promoted,
  • systems and processes are in place so that workloads are manageable and support such as training and resources are in place to help support this,
  • managers are developed so that they have good leadership skills and awareness,
  • a system is in place for staff to come forward and make a complaint or to report incidences in a way where they will be taken seriously and action can take place to deal with bullying behaviour,
  • support is in place so that a representative can be available for workers.

What actions can you take?

If a target is being bullied, Worksafe NZ (2017a) recommends recording details such as the date, time, where it occurred, what happened, who was present, what was said, who said what, whether there were any witnesses and how you felt.

An informal process handled within the workplace can include a HR representative or Manager liasing directly with the bully to remind them of the code of conduct to be carried out in the workplace as well as a mediation process (Worksafe NZ, 2017a).

If a formal process is taken a complaint can be lodged and investigated and external help can be sought as there are a number of laws in place to protect workers from harm which have been outlined by Worksafe NZ (2017a) and are included below:

  • Employment Relations Act (2000)
  • Health and Safety at Work Act (2015)
  • Harmful Digital Communications Act (2018)
  • Human Rights Act (1993)
  • Harassment Act (1997)
  • Crimes Act (1961)

All in all, bullying is known to be costly to an organisation but also can have a substantial impact to a target’s health and wellbeing.  Therefore it is up to us all to work together, to be armed with knowledge and understanding, to find out what policies and processes are in place within the workplace and to advocate for these if they are not present so that bullying can be addressed and staff can be supported. 

If you are experiencing bullying and are in need of a coach to help you through the situation, please do not hesitate to get in touch with me. You do not have to suffer through this alone.   

A list of resources and advice from an employment law specialist can also be accessed through a zine called COLINCU linked here.


Bullying Online (n.d). Why me? Tim Field Foundation

Morton, S.M.B., Walker, C.G., Gerritsen, S., Smith, A., Cha, J., Atatoa Carr, P., Chen, R., Exeter, D.J., Fa’alili-Fidow, J., Fenaughty, J., Grant, C. Kim, H., Kingi, T., Lai, H., Langridge, F., Marks, E.J., Meissel, K., Napier, C., Paine, S., Peterson, E.R., Pilai, A., Reese, E., Underwood, L., Waldie, K.E, Wall, C. (2020). Growing Up in New Zealand: A longitudinal study of New Zealand children and their families. Now We Are Eight. Auckland: Growing Up in New Zealand.

Needham, A. (2019). Workplace bullying: A costly business phenomenon (T. Bentley, B Catley, N D’Souza, Eds.). Andrea Needham Leadership Charitable Trust. (Original work published 2003).

Nazir, S, (2018). The Rise of Bullying as a Public Health Issue. Law School Student Scholarship.       

Srabstein, J. C., & Leventhal, B. L. (2010). Prevention of bullying-related morbidity and mortality: a  call for public policies. Bulletin of the World Organisation; 88:403-403.

Tillburmann (n.d). Game characters isolation. Pixabay.

Worksafe New Zealand (2017). Preventing and responding to bullying at work: Good practice guidelines. Worksafe New Zealand.

Worksafe New Zealand (2017a). Bullying at work: Advice for workers. Wellington, New Zealand: Worksafe New Zealand.