How Workplace Bullying affects Mental Health

Workplace bullying is a silent epidemic taking the world by storm. As we’ve seen in the past few days people were proudly wearing their pink shirts to stand up against bullying. We’ve talked so much about stopping bullying but not so much about how to protect people from it in the workplace, or the tools management can use to prevent it.

The old casual kiwi attitude of “you’ll be alright mate toughen up” isn’t quite cutting it anymore. I thought surely it won’t happen in a work environment but I was very wrong. This means it can happen to anyone, any age, and in any industry. It’s time to stop ignoring such a huge health and safety issue which can have a terrible impact on a person’s emotional well-being.

The question is, how do you even know if you are being bullied, why did they pick you, and how can you fix it?

The Definition of Bullying

The big difference between schoolyard bullying and workplace bullying is that it tends to be more vicious in regards to verbal and psychological harm. Employment New Zealand describes bullying as;

Unreasonable behaviour are actions that a reasonable person in the same circumstances would see as unreasonable. It includes victimising, humiliating, intimidating or threatening a person. A single incident of unreasonable behaviour isn’t considered workplace bullying, but it could escalate and shouldn’t be ignored.

While it sounds straightforward on paper it can be hard to identify. Things such as personal put-downs and personal attacks are easy to see. On the other side attempts to weaken someone’s performance, confidence, spreading rumours, and using isolation are more subtle. If this becomes repetitive over a long period of time it should put off some red flags.

The Rise of Workplace Bullying in New Zealand

When you look closely at the numbers they’re pretty shocking. A study from Massey University shows one in five workers, 400,000 New Zealander’s approximately, have experienced workplace bullying. I’m curious to know why people with such bad behaviour are left to wreak havoc in workplaces. Wait there are more gloomy numbers coming..

Another survey of over 1700 employees from 36 organisations shows at least 17.8% of respondents were subjected to workplace bullying. Come on New Zealand is there something in the water? When you look more closely it’s clear company culture has something to do with it. Director of Culture Safe New Zealand says New Zealand tends to normalise and trivialise the issue of workplace bullying;

From New Zealand’s point of view, being second worst in the world, it means we are getting people coming into our country that go into a workplace were bullying has been normalised and they are horrified and can’t cope with it.

How Bullies Choose their Target

We are often led to believe people who bully are loners and have no friends, yet they tend to be quite popular. These type of people tend to pick on someone who stands up, is independent, or a skilled worker. They will start to see you as competition based on this. Since the other person may feel like they lack competence in their own performance. Also, Psychology Today says victims of bullying are typically nice and aren’t expecting such behaviour. It can leave you thinking why me? If you’re wondering about this you aren’t alone.


Warning signs to look out for will be dreading going to work, disliking your job, and feeling tired or stressed. It’s a toss between having a job or struggling financially without one. Now you can imagine what kind of impact this has on your mental health. Feelings of depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts aren’t to be taken lightly. Is it worth the risk remaining miserable? I think not. You can’t be expected to deal with this or to resolve this by yourself. Let’s get on to the solutions.

Steps to Take to Tackle Bullying

Knowing what steps to take can be crucial in having peace of mind and how to deal with the matter in a professional way. Recommended steps would be confiding in a trusted friend, family or colleague to see if you believe the behaviour is indeed unacceptable in the workplace. You will always find strength in numbers and support from other workers.

  • Keeping notes on the person’s behaviour so you have proof of the repeated actions.
  • Get advice from Citizens Advice Bureau, a union, or speak to a manager.
  • If there is a Human Resources team they tend to have the best advice.
  • Attending a mediation service with the other party, with a mediator present.
  • Workplace bullying has now been deemed as a personal grievance so if mediation doesn’t solve the issue you can take it a step further. Under the Employment Relations Act, an employee has 90 days, from when the action occurred, to raise this personal grievance claim.

Don’t Suffer in Silence

I don’t want to delve into a sob story here but it isn’t pleasant dealing with difficult people in the workplace. You can turn into an emotional wreck and end up feeling embarrassed. It’s no fun showing people such a vulnerable side. Speaking to friends and loved ones can help you through it. Take some time off work and get some fresh air. If someone is directing negative behaviour towards you it really isn’t your fault. Always stand up for yourself and don’t suffer in silence.

Last but not least if companies have the right tools and training in place to resolve workplace bullying we may see a brighter future ahead of us. Let’s stop talking and actually work towards fixing it!



3 thoughts on “How Workplace Bullying affects Mental Health

      1. I became ill an wrote thousands of emails out of trauma. I was then tricked and trapped by HR and subsequently fired (HR wanted me to resign since 2016 if I take a settlement and sign an agreement, I declined 4x, not wanting to sign my rights away).
        I was fired while my father was in intensive care, just out of a coma. This is a toxic company. I did a lot wrong, but I was alone and isolated trying to come to terms about my brother’s death.
        My ill behaviour started with 1 of many emails:

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