Discouraging Bullying in the Workplace: Effective Communication Strategies

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This blog post looks at some of the different communication systems and strategies businesses can put in place to discourage bullying in the workplace, from making bullying more difficult, to empowering staff on the receiving end to report bullying, to making communication more positive overall.


Workplace bullying is more than simply a conflict between employees – it can be a systemic problem that arises in the context of a poor workplace culture. Workplace bullying is best dealt with by taking steps to prevent it from occurring. If left untreated, workplace bullying can undermine individuals well being, workplace relationships, and become a risk to workplace health and safety. All members of a workplace, from employees to managers, play a role in preventing and discouraging bullying at work.


Bullying in the workplace has a significant effect on those directly experiencing or witnessing the bullying, as well as their families, work team and organisation. Employers have a clear legal obligation under Work Health & Safety Legislation to eliminate risks associated with workplace bullying.


Below are some tried and true communication strategies and policies to help eliminate bullying in the workplace. Workplace bullying is an issue that needs to be addressed by everyone within the organisation – from leaders to managers to employees.


Organisational Leaders


Review policies and procedures – do the policies and procedures that are currently in place address respect and expected interactions within the workplace? If they don’t, it is best to put in some formal guidelines and circulate this amongst your employees. Particular policies need to be in place for handling instances of workplace bullying. Some of these policies can include;

  • Taking the statement of the person being bullied
  • A confidential meeting with the person accused of workplace bullying with human resources and their immediate supervisor
  • Allow for an impartial investigation into the circumstances surrounding the incident(s)
  • Providing an opportunity for the employees to meet and speak in a safe environment
  • The use of an impartial mediator to help settle the differences
  • Exploring better ways for the persons involved to communicate with one another
  • A sequence of initial warning, formal warning and eventual termination based upon ongoing behaviour


Address complaints in a fair manner – it is important to implement a standard investigation process to ensure that each incident is evaluated fairly, and to be cautious in making exceptions for any internal or external individual who has been accused of bullying.


Provide easily accessible support channels – implement a clear method that doesn’t have any adverse implications for employees that report bullying within the workplace.


Managers & Supervisors


Address concerns and all forms of aggression – it is crucial to respectfully attend to all employee concerns whenever they occur, and when necessary follow through on progressive discipline. For employees to step forward and alert a manager or supervisor to workplace bullying, they must feel confident knowing a response will be forthcoming and the situation will be handled fairly and consistently. All employees, supervisors and managers must have a menu of available options when responding to knowledge of workplace bullying:

  • Employees must know to whom workplace bullying should be reported
  • Employees must know what form a workplace bullying allegation should be made in; email, verbally, confidentially etc.
  • Supervisors and managers must have a checklist of what to do for any and every report of workplace bullying.

Keep your ear to the ground – listen to employee concerns both formally and informally. As a manager, you are closer to the employees than the senior level, so be aware of sudden shifts in attitude and changes in behaviour.


Do as you say – it is important to treat your employees respectfully, and to encourage respectful interactions at all times through communication channels. Managers and supervisors set the overall tone for workplace behaviour, and your employees are watching for behavioural cues and how to act.


Arrange training – providing ongoing training on respectful workplace practices, and ensure that all employees (including managers and executives) attend. Simply having employees acknowledge policies can sometimes prove to be insufficient – and attending training sessions can improve communication and reporting between all. In the training sessions, the topics that should be covered include;

  • What is workplace bullying
  • What type of language can be considered inappropriate
  • What type of comments and/or remarks can be taken as offensive or frightening
  • What attitudes when focused on an individual person can be intimidating
  • What forms can workplace bullying take? Including; gossiping, emails, exclusion etc.



Know your rights – understand that the first step in fixing a culture of workplace bullying starts with you. It is important to be aware of how you are being treated and perceived, and any factors or changes that could explain it. For example, if you feel that you are being treated poorly, have you brought this to the appropriate individuals attention?


Communicate – it is important to be open with communication not only to managers but also other employees. If you believe that you are the target of bullying, it is important to speak to your manager. It is equally as important to say something if you see another employee being targeted with uncivil behaviour – either directly to the person, your supervisor, HR or the leadership team.


Walk the talk – in order to receive respect, you must first give it – and ensure that you are treating others respectfully throughout all communication channels.


It is important to remember that everyone is responsible for creating and maintaining a safe and respectful workplace – bullying can only exist in environments and cultures that tolerate it.


In the event that you find yourself in need of any assistance in regards to workplace issues, please contact the law offices of Owen Hodge Lawyers. At Owen Hodge we are always happy to assist clients in understanding the full ramifications of any of your legal needs. Please feel free to call us to schedule a consultation on 1800 770 780.


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