How To Tell If You're Being Bullied At Work

It's behaviour that is unsolicited, unwelcomed and often humiliating.

While the term 'bullying' may conjure up images of kids and school yards, it's actually a part of day-to-day life for many Australian adults. And with an estimated one in three people experiencing bullying in the workplace, it's no joke.

But what exactly constitutes workplace bullying? And what should be done about it?

What bullying isn't

Workplace bullying is a serious issue that shouldn't be taken lightly, and that includes using the term to describe behaviour that leaves one party feeling slighted (but not necessarily bullied).

"One of the things around the term bullying is it can be very quickly summoned to describe a relationship dynamic if one person feels aggrieved or something doesn't go their way," Relationships Australia practice leader Jennifer Douglas told HuffPost Australia.

"And that does a disservice to people who actually are bullied."

"Reasonable management action taken in a reasonable way is not workplace bullying. Managers are responsible for monitoring the quality and timeliness of work and providing staff with feedback on their performance. If performance issues need to be addressed, the conversation needs to be constructive and supportive, and focus on the positives as well as the negatives. It should not be humiliating or demeaning."

- Source: Safe Work Australia.

Douglas points out the consequences of actual workplace bullying can be quite severe, and as such, it's important to have a good idea of what constitutes as actual bullying.

"One of the real features of bullying and harassment is a repetitive behaviour," Douglas said. "It is not a one-off thing where someone is in a bad mood."

Which brings us to...

What is workplace bullying?

According to Safe Work Australia workplace bullying can be defined as "repeated and unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker or group of workers that creates a risk to health and safety".

"It's behaviour that is unsolicited, unwelcomed and often humiliating, [occurring in] a systematic repeated pattern," Douglas says.

Unlike this stock photograph, workplace bullying may be subtle, but no less damaging over time.
Unlike this stock photograph, workplace bullying may be subtle, but no less damaging over time.

"Sometimes it takes a while to even recognise what is happening is bullying," Douglas said. "It can look like random unpredictable events, but if you can recognise it as repetitive behaviour, that could be the first sign."

Other signs could include yelling, unpredictable or inconsistent behaviour and a general lack of remorse.

"Bullies don't bring any empathy, they have no sense of the impact of their behaviour on you," Douglas said. "Universally they will never apologise because they don't recognise something is wrong.

"They feel entitled to talk to you in that way. They can be quite self righteous."

What to do

Once you start to feel like your situation could be classified as workplace bullying, Douglas said it's important to start documenting each instance.

"The first thing is to start noticing and start documenting," she said. "Track what's going on. In fact, a lot of people never report being bullied, out of a fear of not being believed. One of the impacts of bullying is losing confidence in oneself.

"I would say 40 percent of bullying goes unreported. Without any documentation it's often difficult to bring any accountability for their behaviour."

It's important to go and talk to someone and be believed because that's where you will have the confidence to take action.

The next step, according to Douglas, is to seek support from a trusted person.

"With a loss of self-esteem and loss of confidence -- not to mention people might already feel like they are in a marginal position, perhaps come from migrant background –- they might be more vulnerable to having very intense feelings of feeling persecuted or put down.

"So absolutely the idea of seeking support from a trusted colleague (ideally someone in the line of authority) or just someone who you trust, it's very important. It's important to go and talk to someone and be believed because that's where you will have the confidence to take action."

If you need help in a crisis, call Lifeline on 13 11 14. For further information about depression contact beyondBlue on 1300224636 or talk to your GP, local health professional or someone you trust.