Bullying in my workplace is affecting my mental health, but nobody will listen

Each week, Dr Kirstin Ferguson tackles questions on the workplace, career and leadership in her advice column “Got a Minute?” This week: burnout being ignored, bad behaviour getting laughed off and a complex dismissal.

Mental health issues should never be ignored in the workplace.

Mental health issues should never be ignored in the workplace.Credit: Dionne Gain

I’m a senior public servant and have been involved in a project with external stakeholders with minimal support and a heavy workload. Two people from the stakeholder organisation have been bullying me, criticising my work, undermining my capabilities, creating unnecessary administrative burdens and humiliating me. I’ve gone from loving my job to having serious mental health issues and burnout. When I raised the behaviour with my executive, they have shrugged it off. Does my organisation have an obligation to take this seriously? What action can I take to have this addressed?


Thank you for your letter. Given the seriousness of what you have shared, I asked those in a position to help to share what they advise you should do. The Victorian Public Service Commissioner, Brigid Monagle; the Acting NSW Public Service Commissioner, Chris Lamb; and the Queensland Public Service Commissioner, David Mackie, all offer you their support, and jointly provide you this advice:

“We’re saddened to hear that your mental health is being impacted by a difficult stakeholder. All employers have a responsibility to protect their employees from inappropriate behaviour, whether that is coming from a colleague, a customer or a stakeholder.

It seems that you’ve tried to raise this issue informally, but had no success. You may want to start by talking about your situation to a trusted colleague. Alternatively, if you feel comfortable going to your executive’s boss you could do that, or it might be time to formalise your concerns.

Without knowing which state, or department you work in we can’t advise the exact steps you will need to follow, but your employer will have a policy which covers what to do if you experience bullying, and you should follow that.”

Bullying in any form – and from any person – shouldn’t be tolerated. It can indeed be tricky when the behaviour is coming from outside your organisation, but your mental health is not negotiable.

I am a woman working in a small team in a government department dominated by men. A female co-worker – who has aspirations of becoming the next team leader – backstabs, belittles, and shouts obscenities at others. She is unpleasant, snarky and difficult to work with, directing her bad behaviour at me and the only other woman in our team. Management is aware of this behaviour and have witnessed it first hand, but laugh it off. I enjoy my job, but if nothing changes soon, I will have to start seeking other opportunities. Is there anything I can do?

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