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Health and safety: Workplace bullying

If left unchecked, workplace bullying can affect your workers’ health, and damage your culture and profit. Here’s how to prevent bullying, and keep your workspace healthy and safe. It’s good for your business, your workers, and it’s the law.

Staff who feel safe and healthy are happier, more focused, and more productive.

It’s easy to think of bullying as something that only happens in the school playground, but workplace bullying is a real issue in New Zealand. It can have a negative impact on everything from people’s wellbeing, creativity and innovation, to staff retention and profit.

Being bullied can cause psychological harm, and businesses must effectively deal with bullying at work. No one should be made to feel threatened, fearful or unsafe at work. It can create a challenging environment for all, and leaves the person being bullied unable to focus.

Bullying is repeated unreasonable behaviour that makes someone feel picked on, humiliated, threatened, offended or upset.

Bullying is repeated unreasonable behaviour that makes someone feel picked on, humiliated, threatened, offended or upset.

Bullies may intimidate people openly — in extreme cases making violent threats, or actually lashing out. But sometimes behaviour is more subtle, or indirect.

Here are some direct and indirect bullying behaviours to watch out for.

Direct bullyingIndirect bullying
Constantly criticising Taking credit for other people’s work
Making belittling remarks Giving impossible deadlines
Giving someone the silent treatment Setting people up to fail, eg purposely holding onto information that would help them do a task well
Ridiculing or attacking someone’s lifestyle, beliefs or appearance Repeatedly giving people belittling tasks that are not in their job description, eg emptying the bins

Find more examples in WorkSafe’s guide for small businesses.

Preventing and responding to bullying at work (external link)  — WorkSafe

Being told what to do by a manager is not bullying if it is reasonable, and it’s done in a reasonable way.

Being told what to do by a manager is not bullying if it is reasonable, and it’s done in a reasonable way.

This might include giving work instructions, or warning or disciplining workers in line with the business’s code of conduct.

How to communicate and give feedback

Keep your workplace bully-free

Having a positive culture is about more than social activities like shared lunches or quiz teams. Healthy workplaces are safe — both physically and mentally.

Bullying is a health and safety risk. As a business owner, you should minimise the likelihood of bullying in your workplace. You must also have processes to effectively deal with it if it happens. Even if someone doesn’t mean to offend or upset, a person can still feel bullied. You still need to act.

To reduce the risk of bullying, you should:

  • Have an anti-bullying policy every employee is aware of when they sign their employment agreement.
  • Create a workplace culture that encourages people to support one another.
  • Educate workers and managers about bullying.
  • Make sure your workers know how to report unreasonable behaviour.

Set house rules

Put how you’ll tackle bullying in your policies and procedures. To follow the rules, your workers must know them. Put your policy where staff can find it.

WorkSafe’s bullying prevention toolkit has an anti-bullying policy template that can help. The toolbox also has:

  • forms employees can use to formally or informally make a complaint
  • best practice advice
  • a tool to assess your workplace health.

Bullying prevention toolbox (external link)  — WorkSafe

Businesses should minimise the likelihood of bullying and have processes to deal with it.

Businesses should minimise the likelihood of bullying and have processes to deal with it.

If you suspect bullying

If you think a worker is being bullied, try to nip things in the bud by addressing it right away. WorkSafe’s downloadable guides for small businesses can help — see the quick guides section of the toolbox below.

Bullying prevention toolbox (external link) — WorkSafe

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) also has a free mediation service for employers and employees with difficult relationships at work. Having an objective professional help you talk things through can often diffuse heated situations.

Mediation (external link) — MBIE

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