The latest edition in our ongoing series, made possible by MYOB, tackles the issue of workplace bullying.

A bullying specialist has sounded-off on New Zealand's rates of workplace bullying.

Dr Gary Namie, a Psychologist and head of the United States' Workplace Bullying Institute, says New Zealand is well-positioned to virtually eliminate instances of workplace bullying were the government and business willing to tackle the problem.

Namie was visiting NZ for CultureShift, New Zealand's first 'Action, not just words' anti-workplace bullying summit.


A 1700-person academic study revealed New Zealand boasts the second-worst rate of workplace bullying in the developed world with one in five workers affected.

In an open letter to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Namie wrote "Your personal legislative and advocacy record features social justice campaigns and you speak of building a compassionate government.

"You certainly understand the needs of children. Child abuse in both our countries [NZ and the US] has long been taboo. Domestic violence, too, was criminalised after long fights for protections against abuse," said Namie.

"It is no longer ethical to support those who batter others. Yet, when abusers are on the payroll, use workplaces to verbally abuse, threaten, humiliate, intimidate or sabotage another person of any rank, abusers can count on employer and legal support."

Namie says while workplace bullying may manifest as verbal or physical abuse, it's typically more systemic than that.

"We define workplace bullying as repeated health-harming mistreatment by one or more people. It's abusive conduct, not yet taboo, that basically undermines all production."

"The most devious tactics are covert, where an employer gets a worker behind closed doors in order to try and convince a thoroughly competent individual that they're suddenly incompetent."

Namie met with Nicole Rosie, the chief executive of WorkSafe, the country's workplace health and safety regulator, as well as Andrew Little from Labour and Scott Simpson from National.


The psychologist who has been a vocal proponent on tackling workplace bullying in the United States for more than 20 years says he believes part of the problem in New Zealand may be our 'she'll be right' attitude to things. Something which can ultimately lead to catastrophe.

"I have been surrounded by New Zealand victims, several whom frankly have considered suicide and many who know people who have taken their lives" said Namie, reflecting on his week in the country.

"Look, you're a rugby-loving nation. This is not time to ramp up the cement pole and harden up. It's time for the country to say, there are people among us who are being harmed. Let's take care of them."

He also has stern words for employers who think a little workplace bullying may help increase productivity.

"Anyone who says the culture of bullying is very motivating. Yeah. Fear motivates for a short, short while, but then it quickly will foster resentment. Don't forget the coworkers are watching, so you've lost the trust and loyalty of all of them too."

"Employers need to understand they're violating the Health and Safety Act of 2015. It is their duty of care, their obligation to protect the safety, both physical and psychological of their workers."


The key to tackling bullying in New Zealand says Namie is for the government to institute a zero-tolerance policy within the workplace.

"They can and they could fix it nearly overnight. They simply need a declaration that it's unacceptable and then stick to it. There would be some legislative patches that could be applied to the health and safety act, or the Employment Relations Act because they have artificial timeframes to file complaints and they require a thing called a personal grievance, which could cause retaliation against a person.'

Namie believes New Zealand could go from being number two in the world for workplace bullying, to being relegated from the charts.

"I think it's doable because of your size. You need to capitalise on that. Whereas we in America always are paralysed by size," says Namie of the struggle to legislate against the problem in the US.

For workers perhaps awaiting a law change though, he offers this advice.

"The toughest thing for a target of bullying to do is admit that they're in over their head, that actually the situation has overcome them. They're going to have to at some point recognise that if their employer refuses to make it safe for them, they need to leave. What it all boils down to is you should not have to be injured to get a paycheque".


If you feel you have or are being unfairly treated in the workplace, you can visit the Employment New Zealand Website for guidelines and support. You may want to contact the Human Rights Commission at or call 0800 4 YOUR RIGHTS.