You may be surprised to learn that cyberbullying is not just a teenage issue. Employees all over the world experience cyberbullying in different forms. Research studies show that approximately 72% of Australian employees have experienced cyberbullying in the workplace.
Cyberbullying in the workplace, much like other forms of bullying, can cause severe levels of stress and anxiety as well as reduced levels of productivity. As awareness of cyberbullying increases, organisations in Australia are becoming more vigilant about implementing countermeasures to nip the problem in the bud.
What happens when there are cyberbullies in the workforce, and what can you do to stop the problem?
What is cyberbullying?
Cyberbullying involves using electronic devices, tablets, smartphones, online communications, and social media to intimidate or harass people.
Typical examples of workplace cyberbullying include malicious, threatening or toxic emails, text messages, tweets, or social media posts. The targeted employee or group experiences humiliation and distress that, if left unchecked, can undermine their physical, mental, or emotional health. Bullying behaviours, in general, can cause discomfort and a feeling of defencelessness and can have a significant impact on employee morale.
Aggression and bullying are different. While aggression usually involves a single incident, bullying is typically recurring, intentional and ongoing behaviour against the ‘target’. A demanding manager, for instance, need not be a bully if they are respectful and exercising legitimate managerial directions. In most cases, the objective of the bully is to embarrass or demean the target. What makes the situation worse is that employees can rarely switch off from digital communication; since employees are always contactable by email and phone, it’s almost impossible to escape from cyberbullying.
Different kinds of cyberbullying
Cyberbullying can be overt or anonymous. People may use technology to broadcast comments, videos or images showing the target in a poor or negative light. Once a defamatory comment, video, or image goes viral, it can cause irreparable damage to the employee’s reputation and peace of mind. Cyberbullying can occur in many different ways:
Employees may experience email bullying from peers, subordinates, or managers. The language contained in the email may be derogatory or toxic, or the email may contain threats. An accusatory or personal email may be forwarded to an entire department with the sole intention of defaming the person concerned.
It’s common to find employees of an organisation connected on social media. Social media bullying involves posting images, jokes, or comments that can be seen by a large group of people. Cyberbullying on social media can also involve excluding a worker from groups and posting sarcastic comments about departments or projects. Digital content leaves a trail that is much harder than paper to erase permanently.
Since most employees exchange mobile phone numbers, this is one of the easiest ways to bully an employee. There are apps that allow anonymous text messages to be sent. Text-message cyberbullying may involve threatening, intimidating or sexually explicit content.
Employees often perceive cyberbullying as more intense than conventional bullying as it can cross physical boundaries and extend into the employee’s home and work as a constant stressor. Cyberbullying can cause the employee to be in a state of general anxiety and deeply affect their psychological and physical wellbeing.
Countermeasures against cyberbullying in the workplace
Every situation is different in terms of the nature of the incidents, the type of offences, and the target’s response. Regretfully, some managers don’t take cyberbullying seriously. In general, female employees are more likely than males to experience cyberbullying.
To begin with, the employee should communicate with the perpetrator and request them to stop the behaviour immediately. At times, online messages may be open to misinterpretation. If the problem persists, you can adopt the following strategies to resolve the issue:
Print out all the evidence.
All posts, comments, images and text messages should be printed and kept as evidence in the event of an investigation. Although your first instinct may be to delete everything, it’s best to retain them as proof.
Report the behaviour.
Employees should make a point of reporting such behaviour to their supervisor/manager, or Human Resources, and back it up with supporting evidence as far as possible.
Policies against cyberbullying
The management should implement a consistent, firm, and gender-sensitive set of policies that describe different misbehaviour and potential forms of action. Managers should clearly spell out acceptable and unacceptable behaviour and communicate this to all teams and employees.
Employees can consider seeking help from their employee assistance program, a confidential counselling service provided by organisations to employees.
Cyberbullying and other psychosocial hazards impact businesses in terms of productivity, legal compliance, and organisational reputation. At ESN, we use our comprehensive framework to identify psychosocial hazards, determine solutions, provide suitable interventions and/or conduct investigations.