Can Potential Bullies be Filtered Out Early in the Recruitment Process?

An estimated 400,000 to 2 million Australians experience bullying at work and it costs businesses an estimated $3 billion per year. We asked Harriet Stacey from Wise Workplace Investigations if potential bullies can be identified early in the recruitment process.

Recognised as an international problem, bullying has a major cost for Australian employers. Measurable costs such as those incurred from law suites and payouts and hidden cost from absenteeism, sick leave and high staff turnover. It is estimated that bullying by employees costs Australian business an estimated $3 billion per year .

Bullying is the “repeated, unreasonable behaviour directed towards a person or group of persons at a workplace, which creates a risk to health and safety” .

Comcare have defined “unreasonable behaviour” as conduct that a reasonable person would expect to cause victimisation, humiliation, undermine or threaten an individual. It includes abusive, insulting or offensive language, marginalisation of others, sarcasm or unjustified criticism of ideas, intruding on personal space, spreading rumours, unfair treatment re rosters, leave or training opportunities, withholding information, initiation pranks and setting impossible assignments or deadlines.

Victims of bullying can suffer a range of negative effects including stress, anxiety  depression and at the extreme, cardio vascular diseases and suicide.

A significant amount of research has been directed into  identifying the prevalence of bulling and prevention at an organisational level, but can you prevent bullying by recruiting the right people?

Bullying can occur at any stage in a persons working life, but it is more common to receive complaints against new managers than established ones. So what can you do at recruitment to reduce the risk that your new employee becomes the victim or perpetrator of bullying behaviour?

Despite the increased use of psychometric testing there is no clear way of predicting if a new employee is going to become a bully or fall victim to one. International research by Crowley and Moore  has shown that victims of bullying who suffered psychological harm as a result of bullying showed no evidence of prior psychological conditions, so screening out applicants with psychological condition won’t prevent harm occurring.

There are certain personality traits more commonly found in bullies than non bullies:
•    Greater than average aggressive behaviour patterns
•    The desire to dominate peers
•    The need to feel in control
•    No sense of remorse.

Easily mistaken for highly ambitious and  self confident people, managers who feel the need to micro manage and control all aspects of a project are more susceptible to complaints of bullying behaviour than those with a more facilitative style of leadership.

Whilst it is not possible to identify specific character traits of victims of bullying – anyone can be susceptible to the workplace bully, if  you have a highly competitive work place with staff on short term contracts in a marketplace where jobs a scarce, workers are likely to suffer more from bullies than in buoyant job markets when new positions are easily found. 

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One of the founding members of WISE Workplace Investigations Harriet Stacey has conducted over 100 workplace investigations including reportable conduct and protected disclosures. 

Harriet has had a diverse career in investigations and law enforcement spanning nearly 20 years. A former police officer in the UK, and the AFP she has specialised in investigations, training and cultural change. A former lecturer with Charles Sturt University Harriet has qualifications in psychology and social sciences and is currently completing a PHD in Investigative Interviewing.

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