Workplace bullying prevention and management is, like most things in life, a process of learning and growth.

In my experience at the present time, different companies and businesses are all in different stages of the workplace bullying learning and growth cycle. Some are wrapped up in building positive cultures, while others are wrapped in a world of embarrassment and shame, just wishing the problem would go away. If only we could stuff the skeletons back in the closet!

Australian researchers, Caponecchia and Wyatt, have developed a three stage model of bullying controls. I have come to understand that all companies I work with around bullying prevention and management fit into this model, which also is representative of their stage in a learning and growth cycle related to workplace bullying.

The cycle is comprised of three stages. These are:

  • prevention;
  • management; and
  • recovery and learning.

Let’s look at each stage individually.


In an ideal world, we would all be in a preventative stage when it comes to workplace bullying. Companies who fit into this stage:

  • are focused on building and maintaining a positive and safe workplace culture where employees feel safe to raise and address concerns.
  • have effective and well-designed systems in place including well defined roles and policies and procedures to address conflict in it’s early stages and prevent workplace bullying.
  • have implemented those systems via training so employees know what is acceptable behaviours and how to address behaviours when they are not.
  • have leadership that role models appropriate behaviour and act when required.


Management is reactive and your most risk laden stage. The situation is defining your actions, more than you defining your own.

Companies who fit into this stage are characterised by:

  • responding to an incident either through informal or formal processes (eg. complaint management and investigation).
  • they are managing a bullied employee and are dealing with an alleged bully ensuring the right support is implemented for employees effected by the behaviour.
  • they may be managing an employee group up in arms and emotionally reactive.
  • they may be managing a new Workcover claim or responding to union representatives, lawyers, the Fair Work Commission or safe work authorities called in to address the problems.

My experience is that this stage is linked to the shame side of human nature. No one wants to talk about it because it comes with it a strong sense of humiliation and failure, but everyone is pulled along kicking and screaming.

Recovery and Learning

Recovery and learning is the stage where a company is rebuilding and bully proofing for the future. It is a stage that often doesn’t occur, despite this being an ideal stage for health and safety representatives to be active in building a safe workplace through the risk management framework. Many sit back in relief, basking in the belief it is over.

It is characterised by:

  • rehabilitating the employees including the target, the accused bully and employees impacted by the bullying behaviours. This includes creating a safe workplace for employees with reasonable adjustments, and behavioural coaching and mentoring.
  • analysing the incidents that have occurred and implementing changes to prevent bullying incidents occurring again in future by modifying systems and processes, including system redesign.
  • monitoring changes for continued success of those strategies.

The Role of Imperfection

I mentioned above that in an ideal world, we would all be in the preventative stage. However, the reality is that we aren’t in an ideal world and this brings a key point to remember.

None of us are perfect nor do we work in perfect companies. At times we will make mistakes which may lead us to a management stage. The key here is not to look to blame and beat ourselves up, or hide in shame and embarrassment. That serves no ones interests.

Acknowledging our imperfections and ensuring we are learning from them is vital if we want to return to the preventative stage.

Finally, the workplace bullying growth cycle is not clear cut. At times, you might find yourself in between stages, transitioning from one to the next with a foot in each stage.

It’s also a cycle. Our imperfections can sometimes lead back to management stages, but again this becomes a new learning opportunity to refine what we have already implemented. It’s all part of growth and learning.

Do you need help to get your company to the workplace bullying preventative stage?

Contact us today for a confidential discussion on how we can help you build a respectful, safe and healthy workplace.