What makes someone more likely to be bullied at work and how companies can help them

Being bullied as a child, being female, young, and neurotic are significant predictors of whether you might be bullied in the workplace, our online anonymous survey shows.

Our team investigated the personality traits and coping styles of workplace bullying victims which might contribute to their victimisation.

Neuroticism is defined as a vulnerability to negative mood states such as excessive worrying, anxiety, anger, hostility, self-consciousness, and difficulty coping with stress.

Destructive behaviours such as bullying or harassment reduce employees’ potential at work, in turn increasing businesses’ operational costs. They are often associated with staff absence, increased sick days, and high staff turnover, which are also expensive for organisations.

Absenteeism is usually a direct consequence of repeated harassment in the workplace. However, presenteeism (attending work when not fit to do so) is the new norm in psychologically unsafe workplaces.

Our study showed that most employees suffering repeated abuse at work nevertheless chose to continue attending. Yet only a small percentage reported taking action towards changing their situation – 10% of individuals had attempted to resolve the situation and 9% had made a complaint.

Presenteeism contributes to a loss of work productivity. An Australian Medibank survey in 2011 showed that presenteeism results in the loss of an estimated 6.5 working days per year, per employee. This cost an estimated A$34.1 billion to the Australian economy over 2009 and 2010.

These statistics show that although employees might keep going to work, they do not maintain their previous standards when their mental health is compromised.

What neuroticism looks like in the workplace

Neuroticism and mental health difficulties are often expressed in subtle ways.

For example, an employee might become excessively worried about missing work and professional opportunities, or unreasonably concerned about what others will think or do in their absence.

But mental distress is not always a function of personality. Resilient people can also be brought to breaking point by the “climate” at work without the control to change it.

Bullying takes many forms

Safe Work Australia defines workplace bullying as repeated and unreasonable behaviours directed towards a worker or a group of workers creating a risk to health and safety.

But bullying is not limited to overt behaviours. Covert and subtle victimisation, such as spreading gossip about someone or deliberately excluding them, also causes distress.

Concealed harassment tactics often involve abuse of power that functions to silence potential complainants.

Organisational policy is one effective way to stop bullying and incivility at work. However, there is a difference between policy and application. Most bullying policies only tackle overt behaviours.

What should be done?

Suffering in silence and not seeking help is costly to individuals and organisations. On the flip side, workplace psychological safety increases productivity.

According to the Mental Health Commission of Canada, employers who invest in psychologically safe workplaces see the benefits not only in productivity but also in recruiting and retaining staff, reduced workplace conflict, and declining costs of disability and absenteeism.

Originally Published by The Conversation, continue reading here.


  1. Thank you for highlighting that resilience is a shared responsibility and significantly shaped by the workplace system and culture, not the individual within it.

    When I saw the word ‘neurotic’ being used so frequwnu, even after its defined, I’m very concerned. I see labelling other people as dismissive and in itself a root cause of bullying because it reduces psychological safety when we hear other people being labelled.

    I often hear the word neurotic associated with women so I am particularly wary of normalising it in conversations about creating mentally healthy workplaces.

    I appreciate that diagnosis has its place – however I hear terms like ‘neurotic’ and ‘OCD’ and ‘narcissist’ and ‘sociopath’ etc etc spoken so often in workplaces and social settings … which I see reduces the likelihood of ever reaching a productive, psychologically safe and efficient climate.

    Instead of labelling each other, let’s support people to speak about the observable facts of what they are or aren’t liking, what values are at stake, and how to make clear specific doable requests of themselves and others to cocreate healthy workplaces for all of us.

    Are you familiar with Marshal Rosenberg’s book?

    I’m relieved to have learned that the CEO of Microsoft gave it to all his leadership team. When an understanding of language that connects is reaching large corporations, I am hopeful that mentally healthy workplace cultures are many steps closer.

    I imagine you might be feeling so irritation that the article is being interpreted this way. Would you be willing to summarise what you are understanding is important to me?


  2. No words can explain how it feels like to be bullied at work. A business establishment should has responsibility to maintain zero bullying campaign and promotes positive vibe on every corner on the workplace. Bullies goes online too.

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