'Significant consequences' caused to mental health when employers ignore workplace bullying

Warning: This article discusses mental illness and suicide.

A former WorkSafe prosecutor has highlighted the potentially dire consequences for employees' mental wellbeing if bullying isn't addressed in the workplace.

DeAnne Brabant says the result of not identifying better ways of working with each other can cause significant harm to workers.

Brabant, a health and safety lawyer at Morrison Kent, said as a result of toxicity in the workplace, employees can suffer from depression, anxiety, and even PTSD in some cases.

She said it's not okay for people to go to work and be harmed.

"They [employers] need to be ensuring a person has the opportunity to make complaints; that they'll be dealt with appropriately [and] that where bad behaviour is seen that it will be addressed quickly," she told Newshub.

"The failure to address it also creates a situation by which [there's] more anxiety, more depression [and] more problems within the workplace."

Brabant, who also is an associate teaching fellow at Massey University, said managers need to enforce the law that says employers must look after the mental health of workers. Under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015, businesses must take practicable steps to protect psychological harm at work.

She said Employee Assistance Programmes (EAP) aren't sufficient enough for those suffering from severe mental harm as a result of bullying in the workplace.

"That requires a real assessment about, 'What's going on? What's causing it? What's actually causing the person to be unwell and to have mental health issues'?

"If you see behaviours change in somebody - it's fine for an employer to suggest they go to EAP - but if the behaviour continues then you've got to start thinking, 'What's going on'?"

Anti-workplace bullying organisation CultureSafe agrees; bullying at work and the mental health crisis in New Zealand go hand in hand. A 2011 survey published in the Asia Pacific Journal of Human Resources revealed 17.8 percent of New Zealand workers had admitted to being harassed.

The survey also showed the employer was the bully 31.6 percent of the time.

CultureSafe director Allan Halse told Newshub workplace bullying can strip a person of their identity.

"The person is somebody that's confident and well-respected and hard-working, and all of a sudden the bullies - they create somebody else."

Halse believes that's why some bullied workers give up hope.

Allan Halse.
Allan Halse. Photo credit: The AM Show

"They [workers] just think, 'there must be something wrong with me'."

The mental harm caused by workplace bullying was earlier highlighted in a Newshub investigation. Katrina Hey, from Christchurch, took her own life on Christmas Day last year, her daughter saying it was a result of bullying at her Lyttelton Port Company (LPC) job.

Newshub's report revealed bullying was rife within the company and LPC is now launching an independent investigation