One in three Australians say they’ve been bullied by a boss

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  • Bully bosses are reported to be widespread in Australia with one in three employees saying they have felt bullied.
  • One in four employees have cried because of a boss.
  • Sometimes a boss will deliberately change the roster because it inconveniences someone.

One in three employees have felt bullied by a cold, distant, harsh, or bitchy boss, according to the latest survey.

The Employsure State of Work research, conducted by Roy Morgan, finds that bully bosses are widespread in Australian workplaces.

“The knock-on effect of the #MeToo Movement, is that bullying awareness is increasing, and employees have a greater awareness of their workplace rights,” says Senior Employment Relations Adviser Natalie Clark from Employsure, a workplace relations support company.

“We need to be mindful that bullying isn’t just repeated name calling or intimidating behaviour. Sometimes it can be deliberately changing the roster because it inconveniences the employee, or continually overloading an employee with deadlines that are impossible to meet.”


The numbers are similar to a NSW government survey of more than 65,600 health employees which found more than one in three staff reported they had witnessed bullying in the past 12 months.

Clark says bosses can be seen to be horrible for being cold, distant, harsh, or bitchy.

However, it could just be personality clashes. Even if it is not bullying, the fact an employee perceives it to be is problematic causing cultural rifts, bullying claims, and absenteeism in the workplace.

But not all bosses are bullies.

Clark says most employers are invested in creating a positive workplace and want employees to feel supported.

“These results reinforce what employers are telling Employsure — that they find it difficult to have conversations about performance because it is really easy for employees to claim they feel victimised or bullied,” she says.

Clark says there may be multiple reasons why more women have felt bullied by a boss compared to men.

“Women still experience gender bias and ideologies that they are somehow inferior to men in the workplace. It is particularly common in male dominated industries such as IT, Tech, or Construction,” she says.

The industries most prone to bullying bosses were farming and food (52.6%), education (40.6%), health and professional care (39.5%), and business professionals (37.2%).

The survey was conducted by Roy Morgan in August 2018 with more than 600 employees.

Research by the ANU shows the benefits of humour for stress caused by workplace bullying.

Dr David Cheng, of the ANU College of Business and Economics, says workplace aggression and bullying is a widespread problem which impacts the mental health of victims and has expensive ramifications for organisations.

He conducted experiments where participants were exposed to a simulation of a colleague aggressively shouting at them and then shown one of two short videos, one of which was humorous.

“The experiments consistently showed exposure to humorous stimuli is useful for victims of aggression,” he says.

“Humour helps reduce some of the damage caused to a victim’s psychological well-being by bolstering their sense of power.”