The new bullying guidelines – what you need to know

It’s taken several years but New Zealand finally has its own definition of workplace bullying and guidelines for managing the issue. So why is it important and what is in the document?

The new bullying guidelines – what you need to know
It’s taken several years but New Zealand workplaces now have government guidance on how to prevent and respond to workplace bullying.

The guidelines, Preventing and responding to workplace bullying, which were released yesterday also mark the first time the country has had a clear definition of what bullying actually is.

And in case you were wondering the definition – which has been adopted from Safe Work Australia – is: “Workplace bullying is repeated and unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker or a group of workers that creates a risk to health and safety.

Repeated behaviour is persistant and can involve a range of actions over time.

Unreasonable behaviour means actions that a reasonable person in the same circumstances would see as unreasonable. It includes victimising, humiliating, intimidating or threatening a person.

A single incident of unreasonable behaviour is not considered workplace bullying, but it could escalate and should not be ignored.”

WorkSafe NZ General Manager, High Hazards & Specialist Services, Brett Murray, said WorkSafe NZ wants to help people deal proactively with the issue themselves and to promote healthy work cultures. The guidelines were developed with Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, and seek to support employees and employers to respond to situations before they get out of hand and to achieve workplace-based solutions.

“Bullying in the workplace is a difficult issue for everyone concerned,” Murray said. “It affects people’s personal health in a variety of ways, and also seriously impacts business productivity.”

“We wanted to take the issue of bullying out of the too-hard basket.”

Professor Tim Bentley, Director of the New Zealand Work Research Institute, told HRM Online the guidelines are significant as up until now there has been no government leadership in this area so organisations have been left to their own devices about how they form policy, practices and systems they put in place to manage bullying. He adds there is a lot on offer from the guidelines for HR departments and organisations.

“It has draft policy in there, it has the various toolkits that can be used by HR managers and others responsible for dealing with reports of bullying and investigating them and solving the problems,” he said. “But they also raise awareness amongst employees and employers and HR managers of the problem.”

“Raising awareness of what it is and having a much better understanding that’s the beginning of culture change.”

Key features of the guidelines include:
  • Definition of bullying, a list of bullying behaviours , types of workplace bullies and types of workplace bullying
  • An ‘Am I Being Bullied’ checklist
  • A flowchart of actions for dealing with being bullied
  •  A calculator tool for employers to assess the cost of bullying
  • A workplace assessment tool that measures organisational culture with a view to preventing bullying.
  • They also provide specific and targeted advice for both employees and employers.
To view the guidelines or access the bullying prevention tools click here.

The New Zealand Work Research Institute along with WorkSafe NZ is seeking to evaluate the impact of the guidelines on organisations. If you’re organisation would like to participate as a workplace please get in touch with Tim Bentley for more information via email  The research is not looking into specific cases but will involve checking in with the organisation at six and 12 months to discuss how the guidelines have been implementing and how they are working.

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