Associated most with the school yard– cyberbullying is recognized to occur amongst children and teens.
But, what about amongst adults and in the workplace?
We are seeing a disturbing rise in cyberbullying amongst adults, according to preliminary research in Canada, Australia and the UK. Some of that is occurring in the workplace, according to researchers at Ryerson University in Toronto.
What is cyberbullying and is it something workers should be concerned about?
Cyberbullying like traditional bullying, but it is unique.
Perpetrators can be anonymous.
There are no limits to the reach and frequency of cyberbullying
It can happen anywhere, anytime.
And, anything goes in cyberspace because there aren’t generally accepted codes of cyberconduct out there.
We should be concerned because of these unique features.
How do workers cyberbully?
Cyberbullying is using information and communication technology to harm others.
Using email, text, Instant Messaging, FaceBook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media to intimidate and humiliate.
For Example, I worked with an employer dealing with an employee who quit.
He started texting his past co-workers, bad mouthing the employer and other employees he didn’t like. The staff were upset because the texts were coming during work and after work.
It was distracting and unnerving.
You’ll see emails sent around about workers that disparage them.
So called “Jokes” that are sexist or racist, that are meant to target an employee based on gender or race.
What are the effects of cyberbullying?
Bullying can lead to stress, anxiety, depression, insomnia, low self-esteem and post-traumatic stress-like symptoms: flash backs, nightmares, panic attacks.
Research into the effects of cyberbullying is in the preliminary stages.
I work with employers and workers who experience these psychological effects due to traditional bullying and cyberbullying.
Many times the two are combined.
Organizations experience a lack of productivity, profit losses, reputation damage, increased absenteeism and a disrupted work flow.
What is being done to protect workers and organizations from cyberbullying?
- There is bullying and harassment legislation—WorkSafeBC has put out a Tool Kit for employers to deal with the issue.
- The Federal government is introducing amendments to the Criminal Code which will criminalize some forms of cyberbullying like the publication of intimate images without consent.
- But, it’s really up to employers to create and implement cyberbullying policies.
- Many may not have cyberbullying policies in place.
- If they do, the concept is mentioned during new employee orientation and not discussed again.
- Efforts need to be made in preventing cyberbullying, as well as creating policy against it.
How can organizations prevent cyberbullying?
- Adopt a Zero Harm Safety Culture attitude.
- That means getting hurt at work, or because of work, is unacceptable.
- Train leaders, managers and supervisors in effective leadership and supervision of staff.
- Show them how to create a culture of mutual respect, and how to intervene when unsafe behaviour starts to occur.
- Include the small stuff.
- Talk about treating each other with civility and intervene sensitively when that’s not happening.
- Train workers in what is appropriate behaviour online, what is expected.
- Create a code of conduct and include cyber-conduct in that code.
- Talk about the code or policy all the time, not just during orientation.
- Ensure there are no contexts where respectful interaction does not apply.
- Watch out for an over-reliance on on-line training and quizzes about bullying and harassment. They won’t prevent bullying or cyber-bullying from taking root.
For more information please listen to the entire interview here:
For more information about being bullied at work please check out these other articles.
Dr. Jennifer Newman is a registered psychologist and director of Newman Psychological and Consulting Services Ltd., a Vancouver-based corporate training and development company. Identifying information in cases cited has been changed to protect confidentiality. Dr. Newman can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org