It should come as no surprise that workplace bullying has serious implications for employee well-being. But what is it that keeps employees safe and well when it comes to those harmful behaviours that constitute bullying?

A recent study examined 68 research papers (incorporating 136 different tests) published in the two decades. This provides us with insight into the moderators that can either protect against, or exacerbate, workplace bullying harm.

With increasing focus from Australian health and safety regulators on psychosocial risk management, we explore the results of this study and it’s implications for our workplaces.

Bullying as a Job Demand and Moderators as a Resource

In reviewing the papers, this research used the job demands and resources framework. In this context, bullying at work is viewed as a job demand. Targets of bullying, to cope with bullying, are required to exert high levels of effort, both cognitively and emotionally. This strain leads to a decline in employee well-being.

In comparison, resources are factors that stop strain or harm from occurring, providing a protective barrier preventing harm to bullying targets and employees in general.

What moderators are effective in promoting bullying well-being?

This research utilised five moderator groups as we will explore below. Moderators are factors that can influence positive or negative outcomes, in this case preventing or promoting negative employee well-being outcomes from bullying.

Let’s explore those moderators and their success in preventing workplace bullying harm.


Organisational moderators play a highly significant role in protecting employee well-being against the harm that workplace bullying causes. In fact, of 22 tests presented across the papers, 20 positively buffer the harmful impact of workplace bullying, while it found two negatively exacerbated it. This is a 91% positive impact on employee well-being.

Importantly, psychosocial safety climate was tested on 5 occasions, all of which pointed to harm mitigation.  In workplaces with a focus on psychosocial safety climates, management prioritises employee well-being and this is also perceived by employees to be the case. This climate is evident by the presence of organisation practices, policies and procedures that promote worker psychological safety and well-being.

Other positive factors that mitigated poor employee well-being included:

  • Conflict management
  • Forgiveness culture
  • Perceived organisational support
  • Anti-bullying initiatives and approaches
  • High involvement work practices (the level of employee involvement in decision making)

It might be surprising that social moderators were significant in protecting employee well-being from bullying related harm. Social support at work can come from a range of people including leaders, co-workers or general sources. Of 17 significant tests, 12 (71%) prevented employees from harm.

Workplace culture can have a huge impact in reducing the risk of workplace bullying. This research supports that suggesting that workplace friendships, supportive colleagues and general workplace social support are protective against bullying related harm. The most effective was co-worker support with broader more general support offered by organisations as the second most effective.

Leadership support was also considered in the paper reviewed. This was found to be far less effective, with it only negating harm in two of six tests, with it exacerbating harm in four other studies.


Personal factors are individual characteristics that either support or hinder effective functioning in an employee. If you’re relying on employees personal resources to keep them safe from the harm caused by workplace bullying, you will need to rethink this strategy. Within this moderation group, only 41% of significant tests were shown to prevent the harmful impacts of workplace bullying.

Moderators that were more likely to prevent harm in this group focused on problem solving, finding that assertiveness and seeking help was more likely to lead to successful outcomes. Comparatively, those focused on individual emotional responses (eg. avoidance, denial and emotional regulation) were very likely to result in harmed employees.

Other factors tested produced mixed results. Resilience, for example, was found negates bullying’s harmful impacts, but this was the case in interpersonal resilience, not personal resilience. Gender and nationality are further examples that demonstrated moderating harm depending on the scenario. For example, women were more likely than men to take sick leave; and Australians experienced more harm that those from Pakistan, Singapore or Uganda.

While personal resources was acknowledge to potentially have a role in preventing harm, it was also acknowledge that the level or intensity of bullying played a significant role. The higher the level of bullying, the less likely an employee was to stay well at work.

It should be noted that both job and family demands and resources were explored in the review of studies. While both indicated that harm from bullying could be mitigated, the number of tests (4 and 2 respectively) were relatively low.

Managing workplace bullying as a psychosocial hazard

Australian employers must manage psychosocial risks under their work health and safety obligations. Bullying is a psychosocial hazard that can cause significant harm to employees. This research provides an insight into strategies that can help prevent that hazard.

Research has told us for some time that organisational strategies are the most effective and this is borne out within the research summary. However, when it comes to bullying it hasn’t been proven to be 100% effective. Employers still need to assess the situation and, on it’s merits, implement solutions that may cross the gamut of the moderating groups. Social support points to the value of culture and relationships between individuals in the workplace. It supports the potential value of bystanders in preventing harm. Even personal solutions may be appropriate at times, depending on the scenario in your workplace, but this shouldn’t be your first, and only, response.


Reference are linked in the above article