What is bullying at work?There are many different definitions or descriptions of workplace bullying, though there is growing consensus on the most accepted inclusions in the definition.
Typically, bullying at work is regarded as repeated unreasonable behaviour, where the behaviours cause, or have the potential to cause harm (see Caponecchia & Wyatt, 2009; Einarsen et al., 2003; Workcover NSW, 2008; Worksafe Victoria, 2003; 2009).
Sometimes a power imbalance between the individual involved is included in the definition. This power imbalance may be based on position in the organisation, experience, age, the length of time the person has been with the organisation, social position, or other factors that create a power difference between the person perpetrating the bullying behaviour and the person (or people) who are targeted by the bullying behaviour. However, power imbalance is more descriptive, than being an essential part of the definition of bullying, because power imbalances are likely to exist in some form or other in many interpersonal reactions. They are not specific or unique to bullying, so they are more use in describing, rather than defining, workplace bullying.
Many sources provide descriptions of some of the acts that could be considered to be bullying, if they also meet the criteria above. These include (but are not limited to):
- Undue public criticism
- Name calling, insults or intimidation
- Social or physical isolation (which might also include witholding information or preventing access to opportunities)
- Overwork (such as impossible deadlines, undue disruptions)
- Destabilisation/undermining behaviours (eg. failure to give credit, assigning people meaningless tasks, setting people up to fail)
- Yelling and shouting
- Spreading malicious rumors and gossiping
- Excessive, unjustified or unreasonable monitoring of work
- Repeated unreasonable assignment of duties which are obviously unfavourable to a particular individual
- Witholding or denying access to necessary information, consultation or other resources
ReferencesCaponecchia, C., & Wyatt, A. (2009). Distinguishing between workplace bullying, harassment and violence: A risk management approach. Journal of Occupational Health and Safety, Australia and New Zealand, 25,6, 439-450.
Einarsen S, Hoel H, Zapf D, Cooper CL. (2003). The concept of bullying at work: the European tradition. In: Einarsen S, Hoel H, Zapf D, Cooper CL, editors. Bullying and Emotional Abuse in the Workplace: International Perspectives in Research and Practice. 1st ed. London: Taylor & Francis; p 3-30.
Workcover NSW (2008). Preventing and dealing with workplace bullying: A guide for employers and employees. Sydney: Workcover NSW.
Worksafe Victoria (2003). Guidance note on the prevention of bullying and violence at work. Melbourne: Worksafe Victoria.
Worksafe Victoria (2009). Preventing and responding to bullying at work. Melbourne: Worksafe Victoria.