Workplace Bullying Fact or Fiction

workplace bullying fact or fiction

Workplace Bullying Fact or Fiction – This article will discuss some of the common myths, comments and excuses made by people in relation to workplace bullying.

Workplace bullying Fact or FictionAs a workplace investigator I have interviewed 100s of people who are subjected to, witness or engage in workplace bullying. I will discuss the reason why people don’t report and the excuses made during interviews by preparators.

As an employer, manager or HR professional you may come across these reasons from people subjected to or having witness workplace bullying and also excuses given by people who engage in bad behaviour.

Office stressWorkplace bullying comes in many forms but it can be summed up as treating a co-worker with a lack of 3 words, “Respect, Courtesy and dignity’

Whenever I conduct training or investigations I always suggest to organisations that they include in their workplace behavioural polices;

“All employees should treat each other and ……… with respect, courtesy and dignity”

Regardless of whether an organisation has one policies or multiple it should be included in all.

Workplace Bullying Fact or Fiction

Stand up to workplace bullyingFiction: I can’t report it as no one will believe me

Fact: In many cases bullies are serial offenders, known for bullying and harassing patterns of behaviour or as ‘that person’ or the person to keep away from.

Management and HR are in a much better position to take action if they have information to act upon.

The best way to help stop these people is take a stand, refuse to be the victim and report it HR or management.

Not allowing yourself to be a victim is courageous and empowering, in many cases bullies look for victims not people who will stand up to them.

Only JokingFiction: It’s not bullying if “I didn’t mean anything by it” or “I was only joking”

Fact: While they may not always understand the effect their behaviour has on people, bullies and harassers tend to be aware of what they are doing. Do not accept this excuse, especially if the bully or harasser has been told that the behaviour or comments are not acceptable or has been told to stop.

Fiction: It isn’t bulling if the person doesn’t make a complaint or tell me that he/she isn’t happy with what I have said or done.

Fact: Many victims are fearful of speaking up or confronting the perpetrator, especially if there is a power imbalance. That does not excuse the behaviour.

Fiction: It is not bullying or harassment if I am only texting.

Fact: Bullying or harassing via text, Facebook or any other social media platform or carriage is still bullying, harassment or sexual harassment.

Fiction: Making a comment about how someone looks is not bullying

Fact:  Commenting “You look nice today” in a neutral friendly manner is not bullying

Making an insulting or derogatory comment about how someone looks can be bullying.

aggressive behaviourFiction: It’s not my fault, they made be angry in the first place

Fact:  Getting angry is no one else’s fault!


Fiction: It’s just me, I don’t really mean anything by it

Fact: It’s just me is no excuse. If  you don’t mean anything by it don’t say it, remain in control of your emotions.

Fiction: I’m having a bad day, people just need to cut me some slack.

Fact: Having a bad day is no excuse to treat others poorly or act in a bullying manner

Fiction: It wasn’t bullying because we were all drinking, and I didn’t really know what I was doing.

Fact:  TWO WORDS – Personal responsibility and YES, it is

Fiction: I can’t report the bullying as I was drinking, and I didn’t really know what to do when I behaved in a way that upset people.

Fact: Drinking or being intoxicated/drunk does not make the bullying or harassment any less unwarranted or unwanted by the person it was directed towards and it does not provide an excuse for the harasser.

Fiction: You should just ignore some people, “that’s just him, he’s/she’s harmless, just ignore him/her

Fact:  While these are common comments, it is not acceptable to just ignore a person whose behaviour is inappropriate by just saying ‘that’s just him/her’.

Fiction: It’s not my business, I should just ignore it

Fact: You should NEVER just ignore it. Imagine if it were you. The victim may be too afraid to report the matter.

Everyone in a workplace has a duty of care to ensure that they do all that is reasonably practicable to ensure the safety of all others in the workplace. If in doubt – ask the question – are you okay?

What can you do?

Responding to bullying and harassment or discrimination

  • All incidents– no matter how large or small or who is involved should be reported.
  • Employers or managers should respond quickly and appropriately.
  • Just because someone does not object to inappropriate behaviour in the workplace at the time does not mean that they are consenting to the behaviour.

What can I do if I’m experiencing bullying, harassment or discrimination at work?

  • Document the interactions/issues including times, dates, locations, actions and words used.
  • Raise the issue directly with the harasser and tell them that their behaviour is unwelcome if you feel comfortable doing so
  • Talk to a colleague for support.
  • Speak to your manager/employer and/or make a complaint.

Your rights and obligations

  • You have the right to a workplace that is free of bullying, harassment and discrimination
  • You have the right to a workplace that is free of anything that could cause you an illness or injury
  • Courts and research has shown that bullying and harassment can lead to cases of illness such as anxiety, depression and PTSD and associated physical conditions
  • You have the right to choose who you wish to engage in a personal friendships and relationships with
  • You have the right to choose when and where you wish to engage in a personal relationship
  • Individuals will be personally liable for their own unlawful acts under the discrimination laws, and in particular for acts of harassment and victimisation

Lessons for employers

Employers, business owners and managers should never accept bullying in the workplace.

We recommend;

  • Having a clear well written policy in place (see my comment above about respect)
  • Make sure all your employees know about the policy and how to access it
  • Conduct training to support you policy
  • Have a trusted reporting mechanism that encourages people to come forward
  • Have a professional investigation process in place when people come forward.

How AWPTI can help

TrainingWe can provide training to your employees to assist you to ensure that they understand what workplace bullying is and what to do if they are subjected to or witness it – Details here

We can provide training for your HR professionals and managers to train them to conduct workplace investigations using best practice methods, details here

We can provide full service investigation support should you wish to outsource matters – details here