When is it not bullying?

What is bullying?

 A worker is bullied at work if:

  • a person or group of people repeatedly act unreasonably towards them or a group of workers
  • the behaviour creates a risk to health and safety.

 Unreasonable behaviour includes victimising, humiliating, intimidating or threatening. Whether a behaviour is unreasonable can depend on whether a reasonable person might see the behaviour as unreasonable in the circumstances.

 Examples of bullying include:

  • behaving aggressively
  • teasing or practical jokes
  • pressuring someone to behave inappropriately
  • excluding someone from work-related events or
  • unreasonable work demands.

This extract defining bullying is from the Fair Work Commission website.1.

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.

Management action that isn’t carried out in a reasonable way may be considered bullying.

So how do we know in practical terms what isn’t bullying?

The following actions seem to be reasonable management actions:

  • Asking some-one to do work that is consistent with their job description – even if it isn’t specifically on the list of tasks in the job description.
  • Seeking progress reports on projects as part of the usual practice of review and update on work achievement.
  • Putting a reasonable limit on an employee’s autonomy, for example requiring some specific actions to be taken when managing a project especially if they are part of the normal project management and work review process. Examples of this include requiring a specific level of consultation with stakeholders, specifying the frequency and detail in project updates and determining the dates for progress reports to be provided.
  • Setting performance goals and performance measures that are consistent with strategic and business plans and which are discussed with the team and with individuals.
  • Clear expectations on work delivery where there is appropriate time and resources to complete the work or if work is urgent to agree on a reasonable standard for what is delivered.
  • Holding people accountable for delivering on work commitments if they have the training, resources and support available to meet the commitments.
  • Asking an employee to identify development needs and support as part of the usual performance feedback and review process and for them to participate in this process.
  • Praising and recognising an employee’s efforts and outcomes to ensure good performance is noticed and commented upon and there is sense that feedback is balanced. Too often people have told me ‘my manager only gives me feedback when something goes wrong’.

Carried out in a reasonable way:

Often times, it is not what is said to us that upsets us but rather, it is how it is said.  Keeping a calm and assertive tone is important in interactions with colleagues and customers.  The following are requirements for reasonable interactions:

  • Suggestions for improvement are delivered with appropriate assertiveness.
  • Feedback is delivered with positive intent.
  • Comments and feedback focus on work issues and performance requirements not on personal characteristics.
  • There are appropriate levels of communication and interaction on a day to day basis.

Let’s hear your views

  • What have you done to ensure your management actions are reasonable?
  • What have you done to ensure you consistently behave towards others in a reasonable way?


[1] https://www.fairwork.gov.au/employee-entitlements/bullying-and-harassment

Coaching can assist with dealing with workplace bullying, please visit the RMHRC Coaching page for more information.

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