Unhappy looking woman looking over her shoulder at a man who is speaking harshly to her

Bullying At Work, and What I Learned

What is Bullying?

Safe Work Australia defines bullying as:

“repeated and unreasonable behaviour directed to a worker or group of workers that creates a risk to health and safety”.

Bullying can include such behaviours as:

  • Abusive or offensive language or comments;
  • aggressive and intimidating behaviour;
  • belittling or humiliating comments;
  • practical jokes or initiation; and
  • unjustified criticism or complaints.

Reasonable management action taken in a reasonable way is not bullying.

My experiencE of Being Bullied At Work

I was bullied at work in the mid 2000’s. I didn’t recognise it as such until afterwards, when a friend put the name “bullying” to what I was describing.

The person doing the bullying was my then supervisor. Let’s call her Veronica for the purposes of this article.

Veronica worked part time, and had Tuesdays and Wednesdays off. She would often give me a large piece of work to do, some time on Monday, and ask me to have it completed before 5pm Monday.

This often put me under extraordinary pressure, as the work was more than could reasonably be completed in the short time available. But I comforted myself with the thought that perhaps Veronica was requesting this so that she could look at the work whilst she was at home.

However, I found out that Veronica very rarely took my work home, and it usually would sit on her desk until she got back on Thursday. So, the deadlines were arbitrary and unnecessary.

Once I did receive the work back, there were often many criticisms, and I would usually have to completely rewrite it. Veronica would often tell me that I had not followed her instructions. She would say that she had asked me to do X, but my clear recollection was that she had asked me to do Y, which was quite different.

I could seem to do nothing right. I found this quite distressing, as I am someone who pays careful attention to verbal instructions, and will ask questions to clarify anything I don’t understand.

I eventually refused to take verbal instructions from Veronica, and would only accept instructions in writing, so I had written proof of what she had asked me to do. This made things a little better. However, Veronica then sometimes would replace my name on work with hers, without my knowledge, and then take credit for the work at meetings. The straw that broke the camel’s back was when Veronica referred to me one day as her “worker bee”, which made me feel completely worthless.

My distress and anxiety increased over the months, until it got so bad that I would get chest pains whenever I heard Veronica enter the office first thing in the morning. The first time this happened, I thought I was having a heart attack! Thankfully though, it turned out to be stress related heartburn, for which I had to take medication for many months.

How I Handled It

I took a course on emotional intelligence, mainly to get out of the office for the day. The facilitator, Barbara Miller, was an organisational psychologist and a life coach, and so I asked her to take me on as a client to help me cope with what was going on at work.

Over a number of months, I worked with Barbara on rebuilding my shattered self-esteem, and implementing techniques for coping with stress. I learned that my value as a person wasn’t dependent on what others thought of me, but what I thought of myself. I started reciting positive affirmations to myself about my ability and my value during the bus journey to and from work each day. Finally, I began to really believe again that I was a person of value, who had something worthy to contribute.

After 3 months of coaching, I had the strength to do what I knew I had to do. I knocked on Veronica’s door, marched into her office, and told her that “her management style was making me ill”. I said that I would not work with her anymore, and that whilst I looked for another job, I would like to be transferred to another section and work with a different supervisor. Thankfully, she agreed.

I am so grateful to Barbara, and for the work we did together. It saved my sanity, and gave me the strength to get another job, where I worked happily for a number of years. It also taught me about the importance of drawing upon my own beliefs as the main source of my self-esteem, rather than relying entirely on others to make me feel good, or bad, about myself.

What You Can Do If You Are Being Bullied At Work

If you don’t want to do what I did and change jobs, you have a number of options.

Safe work Australia has a good page on bullying here. This page suggests:

  • Examining your workplace’s bullying policy and reporting procedure;
  • Asking the bully to stop their bullying behaviour;
  • Seeking advice from another person such as a supervisor, human resources officer or workplace health and safety representative (links to these are provided on the Safe work Australia Page);
  • Contacting your State Work Health and Safety Authority;
  • Contacting the Fair Work Commission; or
  • Contacting the Australian Human Rights Commission.

I would add to this list, contacting your union if you are a member.

Most importantly, please remember that you are not alone. Seek support where ever you can, from family, friends, colleagues or even a coach as I did. Please also, look after yourself.

Editors NoteThis post was first published on 3 June 2016, and has since been edited to update and expand upon the information in the original post.

Professional man and woman at a desk in discussion

Is your job making you miserable? Get support from EAP


If you’d rather watch the Facebook Live video of this content, please here. You don’t have to have a
Facebook account to watch this.

I’ve been writing in the last few blog posts about what to do if your job makes you miserable, and more specifically, who to talk to and how to do that.

In this post, I’d like to mention EAP, which is the Employee Assistance Program. If you are a Government employee, EAP is a great source of support from trained counsellors and psychologists.

The great thing about EAP is that it’s free, and open to your family members as well as you.

I have used the service myself, and found it very helpful when I was going through the redundancy process. The psychologist I spoke to was able to give me some really good strategies for coping with being in the office during my redeployment period.

I really recommend EAP as a great service for finding someone to talk to who is outside your workplace and not emotionally involved, who can give you some great coping strategies for whatever you’re going through at work. Just get the number from your HR area.

Until my next blog post, have a great day, and #DoWhatYouLove