Workplace bullying is one of the most time-consuming and complex issues to resolve in any workplace. There is often mixed opinion on what is bullying and what is not bullying, and it can occur from the top down or the bottom up. Those who have been involved in HR for some time and have had to deal with workplaces that issues of bullying have polluted know very well just how challenging bullying cultures can be to turn around, or in fact, how difficult it can be to deal with that rogue employee who has slipped through the recruitment process and within no time has started to inflict their painful agenda on others.

This all talks to the old adage that prevention is better than cure and leaves us wondering if there is, in fact, a way to create a workplace that is free from matters such as workplace bullying, sexual harassment and discrimination… As incidents of workplace bullying continue to rise in the Australian workplace, it has resulted in the need for employers to review the training and policies they have in place for such matters and a more deliberate approach to taking all reasonable steps when it comes to meeting their legal obligations for things like workplace bullying, sexual harassment and equal employment opportunity. We have a long way to go. Fortunately, as the voice of HR becomes stronger in most businesses here in Australia, such matters are now becoming recognised as having a direct link to the overall success of an organisation. Such changes are needed to ensure that all employees, contractors and volunteers are aware and educated that workplace bullying is a serious issue and will not be tolerated.

Yale psychology professor Paul Bloom in his book Just Babies: The Origins of Good and Evil, concludes the nature of babies to be neither good nor bad (since babies do not have a developed concept of morality) but as narcissists. Adults who have not outgrown their childhood narcissism will probably qualify as an eventual adult bully. Bullying in adult life will be heavily detrimental to both the work and the social life of the bully. There is nothing as worse as a man-child, in Jordan B. Peterson’s words. These adult bullies, or man-child, if you will, will not only cause trouble for themselves but most certainly for the people around them.

In this article, we will talk about the five steps to create a workplace that is free from bullying and harassment. It will also provide ideas for how you can prevent the slaughter of such workplace bullies.

But first, let us start with what workplace bullying is.

What is Workplace Bullying?

Workplace bullying is repeated unreasonable behaviour towards another person or group which creates a risk to health and safety. In Australia, Federal and State/Territory laws protect the rights of individuals and ensure safe workplaces and fair and equitable treatment. These laws apply to all workplaces in Australia, regardless of their size.

Workplace bullying can take many forms. It can be aggressive and in your face, or it can be subtle and can happen behind closed doors in hushed tones.

One in five Australian workers surveyed said they experienced verbal abuse or bullying in their current job in the last 12 months, said Dr Lindsay McMillan, lead researcher of HR think-tank Reventure following the 2017 Snapshot of The Australian Workplace, which had 1000 working Australian individuals as subjects.

Moreover, Joe Flanagan, Senior Consultant at Velvety Jobs, said to the HRD, It is high time we stamped out bullying in the workplace, which costs the economy $6 billion to $36 billion a year, according to the Productivity Commission.

Workplace harassment doesn’t only cause organisations monetarily, here are the other major factors that are harmful to your business due to workplace harassment:

  • lost labour productivity
  • increased absenteeism
  • low group morale
  • lost time spent documenting, pursuing or defending claims.
  • increased employee turnover rate
  • fall in stakeholder value, and
  • brand damage

This all suggests that workplace bullying is a significant problem, which it is. However, it is not an invincible problem, provided that we continue to invest in the right training, have the right policies in place, and invest in our supervisors and managers to be able to manage situations as they arise..

Step 1. Create A Space Where People Are Comfortable To Speak Up

It is of fundamental importance for a business to create a safe and all-inclusive space for its employees. A place where they are able to speak up if any misbehaviour happens to them in an unencumbered way.

Step 2. Establish Zero-Tolerance Anti-bullying and Harassment Policies

Roll out policies that are in line with the law and the core values of your company. For example, Sentrient, which would be considered Australia’s #1 workplace compliance system for small and medium businesses and larger organisations, provide a workplace policy builder that allows HR teams to create, enrol and manage the completion of the organisation’s own workplace policies, along with version control and automatic reminder notifications. These policies can also be stored in one place for ease of access. Some of the key policies include:

Having policies in place will help to create a culture of zero tolerance., However, without the presence of appropriate workplace compliance training, you are not taking all reasonable steps to address the situation and fall into the trap of having the best-written policies stored away someplace safe without it really addressing the big issue of helping people understand how to identify, report and resolve matters such as workplace bullying, sexual harassment and discrimination

Step 3. Provide Training and Awareness Programs for Employees

Despite what the media leads us to believe, matters such as bullying, harassment, and discrimination are not always physical and right in your face. Sexual harassment can often be subtle unasked compliments, or inappropriate physical contact, right in the middle of a normal working office environment. These are often hard to identify and often not reported; hence allowing such behaviours by considering them to be acceptable around here is common. Of course, what starts as a small issue can often become a much bigger issue really quickly. Workplace compliance training through proper methods and channels can not only spread awareness and prevent non-compliant behaviour in your workplace but also help employees identify what constitutes harassment and how to report such incidents.

One example of a highly effective and affordable training solution is Sentrient’s online workplace compliance courses that are legally up-to-date, easy to understand, and take approximately 15-20 minutes to complete each topic in the training suite. People often comment that the training is a very tasteful, appropriate and effective way to educate staff at induction and on an ongoing basis, for most organisations, this is every 12 months, however, in some cases, it may be every 24 months. Whilst there is no hard and fast rule on refresher training, it is highly recommended that we undertake a continuous regime of training updates in many and varied forms and that we do not leave such training bites any longer than 24 months at a time. In other words, providing a small component of training when somebody first starts with you and thinking that it ticks the box forever just does not cut it and never did!

Step 4. Ensure Everyone Understands the Complaint Procedure

According to the Australian Human Rights Commission, only 17% of the people who feel they have been sexually harassed actually report sexual harassment that happens in the workplace. The idea of training staff on what is and is not sexual harassment and how to identify, report and resolve it means that if there is an incident in the workplace, you are more likely to have such conduct reported. The benefit of having it reported is that you can then take steps to resolve it well before it becomes a bigger issue in the majority of situations!

Step 5. Create Specialised Training for Managers and Supervisors

Whilst we all have a responsibility to contribute to a safe, fair and inclusive workplace, management has to take the lead. A lot of organisations don’t acknowledge that bullying is happening in the workplace. Often the bullying is being carried out by managers or is not visible to management until it is too late.

Even if managers recognise bullying behaviour, they may be hesitant to address the bullying, especially if the bully is productive or profitable for the organisation.

Bullying and harassment prevention training and continual communication by the organisation on its expectations around behaviour are critical. Managers also need to be trained separately to respond appropriately to bullying complaints.

Get a free demo of Sentrient’s online workplace-compliant system – or contact our team on 1300 040 589 or at if you would like to find out how we can help you to take steps towards creating a workplace environment that is free from bullying, harassment and discrimination.