Sexual harassment and bullying – is it happening in your workplace?

Have you, your peers or colleagues been subject to bullying but felt like it is part of the office culture? There's a fine line between workplace banter and inappropriate behaviour, but what defines that line is often unknown by team members, causing issues to be left unresolved. 

The New Zealand Law Society revealed results from its first-ever survey about the safety of lawyers in the workplace with a focus on sexual harassment and bullying. A total of 13,662 lawyers were asked to undertake the survey, the first of its kind to be carried out by the Society since it was founded 150 years ago. 

Of those who completed the survey (3,516), almost a third of female lawyers had been sexually harassed during their working life and more than half of all lawyers had been bullied some time during their working life – 21% in the last six months. More than 60% of lawyers who had been bullied during their working life said that the experience affected their emotional or mental wellbeing. 

As we all become more aware of sexual harassment and bullying in the workplace, there are increasing pressures for managers and business owners to identify and eradicate issues in the team. 

EQ Consultants regularly provides advice and investigations for businesses that want an external approach to avoid conflicts of interest.  

Principal Consultant, Viv Patterson has conducted bullying and harassment investigations for large corporates, lawyers and small-medium size firms. She shares her recommended approach to prevent bullying and harassment in the workplace. 

Bullying and harassment - part of the workplace culture 

Viv says: "Usually we find that bullying and harassment has been occurring insidiously within the culture. Often the behaviour of a person has been accepted, for example that's just what X is like. As society's tolerance for behaviours change, this is reflected in the workplace. We often find those who are victims of bullying and harassment are struggling with anxiety and cannot sleep. It pervades all aspects of their life – both at home and work, creating self-doubt and eroding confidence. These people (the victims) are often high achievers." 

How can you prevent bullying and harassment in the workplace? 

"As a business owner or manager, being able to respond to bullying / harassment in the workplace effectively and efficiently is crucial to ensuring the emotional and mental wellbeing of your team.  

"Develop a culture where people are not only aware of the company's values but feel comfortable to practice them too. Prevent bullying and harassment from the outset by ensuring that your firm's code of conduct and company values include a 'no tolerance' section of any form. Reaffirm this by ensuring that your team members feel comfortable to raise their issue with you or at management level.  

"Whether or not your workplace is open to friendly banter, be aware of signs that may take a joke one step too far. All too often we see workplace relationship breakdowns because of accusations, misinterpretation and inappropriateness. Ensure that issues do not get overlooked by creating a culture where people feel confident and comfortable to stand up for themselves and the company's values without risk of jeopardising their position or respect within the company."  

Is there an issue within your company? 

If you would like further information about developing a better workplace culture or overcoming an issue, please contact Viv on 021 223 2128 or email 

This article is not intended as legal advice but is intended to alert you to current topics of interest.

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