Performance management and workplace bullying…

Many people confuse the two, are you confident you know the difference?


Bullying can take on many forms, and the old-fashioned idea of bullying being solely direct, physical or verbal abuse is exactly that – old fashioned and outdated.

In today’s ever changing and evolving age of social media and the increasing numbers of people affected by mental health issues, work place bullying and harassment cases can be extremely complex, as well as damaging to both employees and employers. 

According to a recent study by the University of Wollongong, half of all Australian employees will experience workplace bullying during their careers”.

Bullying can range from obvious physical or verbal abuse to subtle physiological abuse.  People are not only becoming more and more aware of the effects bullying can have and their right to be treated fairly in the workplace, they are becoming increasingly more confident in speaking out against it.

This is great news.  However, it is important to be clear on what actually defines bullying or harassment before you go making allegations.

The Australian Fair Work Ombudsman defines workplace bullying as “a person, or group of people who repeatedly act unreasonably towards a worker, or group of workers and the behaviour creates a risk to health and safety.” 

The Fair Work Ombudsman states “Unreasonable behaviour includes victimising, humiliating or threatening behaviour.  Whether behaviour is unreasonable can depend on whether a reasonable person might see the behaviour as unreasonable in the circumstances”.

Some examples of workplace bullying include:

  • Behaving aggressively – yelling, screaming or offensive language
  • Teasing or practical jokes
  • Excluding or isolating employees
  • Unreasonable work demands
  • Undermining work performance by deliberately withholding information vital for effective work performance.
  • Unreasonable pressure to produce work
  • Setting impossible deadlines/Unrealistic expectations
  • Deliberately changing rosters to inconvenience particular employees

According to The Australian Fair Work Ombudsman “Under discrimination law, it is unlawful to treat a person less favourable on the basis of particular protected attributes such as a person’s sex, race, disability or age.  Treating a person less favourably can include harassing or bullying a person.  The law also has specific provisions relating to sexual harassment, racial hatred and disability harassment” Some examples of harassment provided by the Australian Fair Work Ombudsman include:

  • Telling insulting jokes about particular racial groups
  • Sending explicit or sexually suggestive emails or text messages.
  • Displaying racially offensive or pornographic posters or screen savers
  • Making derogatory comments or taunts about a person’s disability, or
  • Asking intrusive questions about someone’s personal life. Including his or her sex life

What isn’t bullying?

A manager can make decisions about poor performance, take disciplinary action, and direct and control the way work is carried out.  Reasonable management action that’s carried out in a reasonable way is not bullying.  Performance management is part of being a manager, and sometimes this comes with the need to deliver advice, and feedback – both positive and negative when necessary.  Warranted negative feedback and reasonable disciplinary action are not to be confused with bullying.

If you feel as though you have experienced or witnessed workplace bullying or harassment you  can:

  • Refer to your workplace policy regarding bullying and harassment
  • Talk to your superiors at work
  • Talk to your human resources department
  • Report the issues anonymously through an external whistleblower service like Stopline.

If you do not currently have an external whistleblower service and you would like Stopline to contact your company with an information pack, or to learn more, please contact us on 03 9882 4550 or on 0487 333 099 or send us an email at