• Edwin and George

Turning a Blind Eye to Bullying in the Workplace – The Enablers


We’ve recently been working with customers who have escaped toxic work cultures. The worrying trend we have seen is an increase in abhorrent behaviour by bad managers, which can’t be good for the organisations. What is upsetting to hear is that there have not been consequences for the perpetrators and often colleagues are aware of it going on.

Worse still, 44% of people who do report bullying believe that their organisation does nothing when bullying is reported.


Jordan Peterson, Professor of Psychology at the University of Toronto, identifies two types of people who are bullied in his book ’12 Rules for Life:’

  • ‘Sometimes people are bullied because they won’t fight back.’ This happens if they’re agreeable, compassionate or have simply decided that aggression is wrong.

  • ‘Sometimes people are bullied because they can’t fight back.’ They are weaker physically than their opponents or unable to fight back because the bully has more power, status or is generally stronger in some way.

Reading Peterson’s second point, it’s hardly surprising that work is place where bullying is (likely) widespread:

  • A study by University of Wollongong in 2016 found that half of all Australian employees will experience workplace bullying during their careers. Of those bullied, 40 per cent of people experienced workplace bullying early in their career and between 5 and 7 per cent had been bullied in the previous six months

  • A recent study by Massey University found that one in five Kiwi workers experience bullying (‘Human Resources Director, New Zealand’ 21 May 2018).

Bullying can take many forms. The signs aren’t always obvious. Bullies devalue others, they feel threatened by competent staff and stifle contribution, they set bad examples and project their negative outlook onto others, they generate conflict and raise petty criticisms about other people.

Bullies lie to protect themselves. They may often portray themselves as the victim.


Sad fact: if their actions are routed in personality problems, they’re unlikely to change.

Bullying is bad news. Organisations that ignore bullying and allow it to fester, pay the cost. Having informal or formal policies that are never implemented don’t make one bit of difference. Leaving the onus to put things right on the person being bullied is hardly an effective strategy.

Organisations and employees need to be more proactive in calling out poor behaviour.

Workplace bullying costs Australia companies many billions of dollars every year. It should be taken a lot more seriously. Worse than the impact on the economy is the impact workplace bullying can have on people.

As Peterson says of bullying: ‘the forces of tyranny expand inexorably to fill the space made available for their existence.’

What steps does your organisation take to make sure bullying in the workplace is not tolerated? If you witness workplace bullying do you feel confident in being able to call it out?

If you are currently a victim or observer of workplace bullying – please speak up. It’s not right and must stop. Regardless it is worthwhile looking over this fact sheet.

Yasmine Johnson is Co-Founder and Director of Operations at EGM: Executive Search and Recruitment, Adelaide.


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