Of Rituals, Of Ragging, and Of Responding

In December of 2009, at a Christmas party meant to be full of cheer and season’s greetings, one of Australia’s leading TV and radio show hosts allegedly groped a female colleague. He later blamed his behaviour on “crazy extended drinking mode”. But this was not the first time he had misbehaved with female colleagues at a work party, and it wouldn’t be the last time either.

In December 2022, the same TV host was terminated both by Nine Entertainment as well as Sky News Australia, following a third reported incident, which, it was decided, was the last straw.

This story isn’t an isolated one. In fact, it has been reported that the information, media, and telecommunications sector had the highest level of workplace sexual harassment cases over the past five years.

The incidence of workplace sexual harassment in the sector is at 64% — nearly double the national average of 33%, according to a survey of more than 10,000 people conducted by the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC).

The perpetrators often get to carry on with their lives since most incidents go unreported, and even if such issues are escalated to HR or relevant departments they may still be given second or even third chances at their jobs. The target continues to suffer the humiliation of having been propositioned, groped, or spoken to demeaningly. The target continues to suffer. 

With the end of the year fast approaching, most companies are gearing up for celebrations and festivities, once again. But too often, as we have seen in incidents like the one above, amidst the drinks and the banter at end-of-year parties, the lines can start blurring. Sometimes, what starts out as some good-humoured fun can slowly progress into a nightmare. A nightmare that the target is often forced to keep to themselves, or to sweep under the rug so that the perpetrator does not lose face.

The Ragging, The Rituals, and The Bullies

What is it about workplace parties that causes employees to be at increased risk of bullying? Well, first and foremost, the problem lies in the presence of bullies itself. These bullies could be employees who often hold senior positions in the company, feeling more enabled by the presence of drinks and the general setting. Coupled with certain rituals like hazing or ragging to enable these bullies and their behaviour, workplace parties can fast become a hotspot for bullying.

In different countries, the practice similar to “ragging” might be referred to by various names, and the severity and nature of such practices can vary. Here are some terms used in different countries to describe similar activities:


  1. *Hazing (United States and Canada):* Hazing is a term commonly used in North America to describe initiation rituals or activities that can involve harassment, humiliation, or abuse, often within college fraternities, sororities, or sports teams.


  1. *Fresher’s Week (United Kingdom):* In the UK, the term “Fresher’s Week” refers to the initial week of the academic year when new students are introduced to university life. While it’s not necessarily negative, some events during this week can resemble ragging or hazing.


  1. *Bully (Australia and New Zealand):* In Australia and New Zealand, the term “bully” or “bullying” can be used to describe actions that are similar to ragging or hazing, particularly in the context of school or university.


  1. *Orientation Week (Various Countries):* Many countries have orientation weeks or programs for new students, which can include both positive activities to help newcomers adjust and, in some cases, negative practices resembling ragging. The nature of these programs can vary widely.


It’s important to note that the terms and practices can differ from one region to another, but the underlying issue of harmful initiation rituals or activities exists in various forms across the world. Efforts are often made to address and prevent such practices to ensure the well-being of students.


Hazing or initiation rituals are generally not an acceptable or legal practice in workplaces, including apprenticeships. In most countries, workplaces are expected to provide a safe and respectful environment for all employees, including apprentices. Hazing or any form of harassment, abuse, or humiliation is not only unethical but can also lead to legal consequences for the perpetrators and the employer.


Apprenticeships are structured training programs where individuals learn and develop skills in a specific trade or profession. The focus should be on education, mentorship, and skill development, not on subjecting apprentices to harmful or degrading activities. If you or someone you know is experiencing hazing or any form of harassment at work, it’s essential to report it to the appropriate authorities within your workplace or regulatory agencies to ensure a safe and supportive environment for all employees.


So, whether it’s a a Christmas party, a congratulatory dinner, a workplace occasion to usher in the New Year, or just a regular workday in the office, arm yourself with the persona of an Upstander. Step into your shoes as an Upstander, and stand up for those who are being bullied, belittled, and harassed. To call out the toxicity in your workplace, regardless of whether or not it is directed at you, is your responsibility.

The Reasoning Behind the Ragging

The bullying or mistreatment of apprentices or new staff members by senior employees can occur in some workplaces for various reasons, although it’s important to emphasise that such behaviour is unacceptable and should not be tolerated. Some possible reasons behind this behaviour include:


  1. *Tradition or Culture:* In certain industries or workplaces, there may be a tradition of initiation rituals or “toughening up” new apprentices or staff members, which can sometimes involve bullying or hazing. These practices may persist due to the belief that they build character or camaraderie, although this justification is widely discredited.


  1. *Power Dynamics:* Senior employees may feel a need to exert power or control over newcomers to maintain their own sense of authority or superiority. This can lead to bullying behaviours as a means of asserting dominance.


  1. *Insecurity:* Some senior employees may feel threatened by new apprentices who may possess updated skills or knowledge, which can lead to attempts to undermine or belittle them.


  1. *Lack of Education:* In some cases, senior employees may not be adequately educated about the negative effects of bullying or hazing, and they may not fully understand the harm they are causing.


  1. *Peer Pressure:* Senior employees might engage in bullying behaviour to fit in with their colleagues or because they believe it is expected of them by their peers.
The Response to the Ragging

It’s crucial for employers and organisation to create a culture of respect and zero tolerance for bullying or mistreatment in the workplace. Apprentices, like all employees, should be provided with a safe and supportive environment to learn and grow in their chosen profession. If you are experiencing bullying as an apprentice or witnessing it, it’s essential to report it to your employer or HR department so that appropriate actions can be taken to address the issue.


Being an Upstander is about shifting from being the passive bystander to becoming the proactive change maker. Being an Upstander is about calling out injustice and abuse, it is about becoming a purpose-driven initiator of a positive culture. To respond to the ragging and the bullying and the hazing by standing up against it, whether you are personally impacted or not, is to be an Upstander.

For more information on how to nurture and reset your workplace culture check out