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Health and Safety Message - May 2007


Workplace bullying is a form of adult behaviour that is often very subtle and complex. In attempting to define it the Queensland Government issued Workplace Bullying Guides in 1998. The guides describe it in terms of ‘overt’, ‘covert’ and ‘hostile’ behaviours.

Overt behaviours are considered to include such things as loud and abusive language, yelling and screaming, unexplained rages, hostility, intimidation, unjustified criticisms and insults, constant humiliation and unjustified threats of dismissal or other disciplinary procedures.

Covert behaviours may include much more subtle forms of unpleasant behaviour such as sabotaging an employees work by withholding information required to fulfil tasks, hiding documents or equipment, constantly changing targets or work guidelines, overloading employees with work and impossible deadlines, not providing appropriate resources or training, isolating or ignoring employees on a constant basis. They may also include things such as teasing, practical jokes, gossip and rumour, excluding people unfairly and criticising co-workers on a regular basis.

Whether overt or covert, bullying affects people and their performance at work. It undermines their safety and dignity and as such, contravenes a recognised human right; the right to human dignity.

Workplace bullying is not

  • Friendly banter or repartee that people consent to
  • Light hearted exchanges
  • Issuing reasonable instructions and expecting them to be carried out
  • Warning or disciplining someone in line with company policy
  • Insisting on high standards of performance in terms of quality, safety and cooperation
  • Giving a negative performance appraisal and requiring justified performance improvement
  • Expressing opinions in a assertive manner that are different than others

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