Communication technology has given rise to online networking and social media, making it easier for people to connect with family, friends and even strangers from around the world. Regretfully, it has also given rise to a new type of bullying; Cyberbullying which refers to bullying and harassment that involves electronic devices and online communications and includes but is not limited to text messages, tweets, malicious or threatening emails or social media posts.
Many of us think of teenagers when we think of cyberbullying however, the workplace is not immune to this type of harassment as evidenced by a large number of studies;
A large 2009 survey of Internet users over the age of 18 reported that at least 7% have been cyberbullied. In a study conducted with male employees of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, it was found that 89.3% report experiencing at least one negative act either face-to-face or by e-mail, SMS or telephone over a period six months. Of these respondents, 83.5% reported more than one instance, with the average being 8.9 negative acts. Another study by the University of Sheffield and Nottingham University has shown that 8 out of 10 people have experienced cyberbullying at the workplace in the last six months.
“Demanding” managers, supervisors are not “bullies” as long as their interactions are respectful, fair and their intention is to improve employee performance through setting high-yet-reasonable workplace expectations.
Cyberbullying is the deliberate use of social media platforms, information and communication technologies, new media technologies (email, phones, chatrooms, discussion groups, applications, instant messaging, blogs, video clips, cameras, hate websites/pages, blogs and gaming sites) to harass, threaten, humiliate and victimize another with the intention to cause harm, discomfort and intimidation.
Cyber bullying at work may involve offensive emails or text messages containing jokes or inappropriate wording towards a specific individual race, gender, nationality, or sexual preference; it may involve posting of inappropriate photographs; or posting of offensive or threatening comments; or revealing of sensitive personal information. This could be done accidentally or vindictively.
Cyber bullying is similar to person-related bullying since both types of bullying include:
being humiliated or ridiculed in relation to work
having gossip or rumors spread about you
being the recipient of insulting or offensive remarks or allegations made about you,
being ignored or excluded, or encouraged to quit
being the target of practical jokes, or the subject of excessive testing and sarcasm.
being the target of spontaneous anger or finger-pointing or personal space invasion, shoving, blocking or threats of or actual physical violence and abuse
Cyberbullying differs from traditional bullying since;
the perpetrator can be anonymous or using a fake account
the perpetrator does not witness the results or injury caused by cyberbullying on the victim
there are no limits in terms of frequency that cyberbullying takes place
there no boundaries in terms of extent of audience reached
the victims cannot escape since they cannot cut off communication channels like receiving emails or text messages
the signs of cyberbullying may be hard to spot or prove especially if you are new to the job
Learning to Spot the Signs of Cyberbullying in the workplace
if co-workers intentionally and repeatedly leaving you out of group emails and projects, impacting on your work performance.
If secrets or other personal information are shared with a large group of employees without your consent
if uncomfortable images of you are being circulated without permission via Snapchat and causing you distress
if demeaning and destructive comments are posted on social media pages like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram etc.
if a senior manager or supervisor is repeatedly calling or texting you outside work hours to criticize your work performance
If a coworker poses as someone else (a boss, another employee, a leader or even a personal friend) and posts comments or sends emails or texts to confuse, gain work-related or personal secrets or simply embarrass the victim.
Bullying occurs more often in work environments that:
are stressful or change frequently
have heavy workloads
have unclear policies about employee behavior
have poor employee communication and relationships
have more employees who are bored or worried about job security
Bullying can have significant effects on physical and mental health causing anxiety, stress and reduced productivity. It can make people feel distressed, hurt and alone.
Physical and mental health symptoms that victims may experience include:
feeling sick or anxious before work or when thinking about work
experiencing digestive issues or high blood pressure
having trouble waking up or getting quality sleep at night
experiencing somatic symptoms, such as headaches and decreased appetite
thinking and worrying about work constantly, even during time off
dreading work and wanting to stay home
losing interest in things you usually like to do
manifesting signs of depression and anxiety, isolation, withdrawal etc.
having suicidal thoughts
suffering from low self-esteem
experiencing self-doubt, or wondering if you’ve imagined the bullying
Experiencing bullying in any form can leave you feeling vulnerable, distressed and powerless to stop it, especially if it is your supervisor or manager bullying you. It is important to remember that bullying is not your fault and bullying is not about your work ability but about power and control.
Taking action against bullying by:
Documenting the bullying. Save the physical evidence, by keeping track of all bullying actions in writing noting the date, time or the form it was delivered, if on social media, take a picture of the post, image etc. Save physical evidence. Keep any threatening notes, comments, or emails you receive, even if they’re unsigned.
Do not respond immediately or in anger. Collect your thoughts the goal is to respond not react before gathering the evidence
If you decide to confront the bully, prefer responding in person rather than in writing, after you have gathered your evidence.
Make sure you stay calm, direct and clear asking them to STOP the bullying behaviors. Do not engage in a heated argument. If you feel safer bring along a trusted witness, such as a co-worker or supervisor.
Remember, your interpretation of the written word may be different than intended. So, communicate openly and honestly about what you found offensive and communicate clearly that you expect this behavior to STOP.
Report the bullying. If your workplace has a designated person you can talk to, if it is the supervisor or officer doing the bullying start with Human Resources Department
Seek support, talk to a trusted co-worker or your loved ones. You may also talk to a therapist who can provide you with professional help and help you explore ways to cope with the effects of bullying.
Change your privacy settings on social media by ensuring that all your social accounts are visible only to those who you want to see them
Review work policies. Your employee handbook may outline steps of action or policies against bullying.
Seek legal guidance. Consider talking to a lawyer, depending on the circumstances of the bullying. Legal action may not always be possible, but a lawyer can offer specific advice.
If cyberbullying is unaddressed it can have serious implications for organizations and businesses leading to poor employee relations, poor performance, increased employee absence, high turnover rates, resignations, decreased productivity, poor moral, trust, effort, and loyalty.