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Cyber Bullying: Harassment in the Information Age

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Bullying doesn’t just exist on playgrounds.  Thirty-five percent of adults in the US report being bullied at work – approximately 54 million workers.[1]  This is a scary number when you consider that cyber bullying is a relatively new phenomenon in the workplace.

If you’ve ever received a hostile e-mail from someone at work or had nasty things written about you, your work or business online, you know what it’s like to be cyberbullied.

A perpetrator might whip off an aggressive, threatening, demanding or humiliating e-mail to someone they supervise.

[Tweet “#Cyberbullying is a passive form of #bullying. It’s serious, insidious & damaging. “]

Something like: “If you don’t shape up, you’re going to be written up or possibly fired.” Or on a more personal note: “You’re stupid, and if I have anything to say about it, you’ll be shipped out.”

Other times the intimidation comes via text message or a Facebook or chat room post from a co-worker trying to ruin reputations by spreading negative gossip, criticizing colleagues or posting embarrassing photos.

Whatever shape the message takes, a cyberbully hides behind a computer with an intent to injure the receiver. And the computer attack has the same effect as face-to-face bullying: to snub, badger, browbeat, or intimidate.

Cyberbullying is bullying behavior in the form of intimidation, threats, humiliation and harassment that takes place through the use of computers, cellphones or other electronic devices. – Cyberbullying Research Center

While the term initially was applied to teenagers, it is rapidly being used to apply to behavior adults are experiencing in the workplace as well.

Cyber-bullying can take workplace bullying to a new level. All of us know how quickly emails can spread information. Imagine how the word spreads when emails, text messages or social media posts broadcast unverified rumors about a target, from unverified sources.

Also, where workplace bullying usually pits one bully against one target, cyber-bullying can easily take the form of cyber-mobbing where you have many people against one target.

What is workplace cyber bullying?

Cyber bullying is just like traditional workplace bullying and harassment in the workplace, but involving electronic devices and online communications. Cyber bullying includes but not limited to:

  • Malicious or threatening emails, text messages, and tweets
  • Electronic communications that contain jokes about ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or any other topic that would make an individual uncomfortable
  • Public shaming via a mass email
  • Sharing embarrassing, offensive, or manipulated images or videos of an individual
  • “”Spreading lies & gossip” – social networking sites are usually the most common ways people become victim of another person’s cyberbullying.”

Why is it Easier to Bully on Social Media?

Social media platforms have become popular forums for bullying and harassment.  Unfortunately, it is easy to see why – cyber bullying is easier than traditional bullying.  Cyber bullies have the benefit of anonymity, lack of face to face confrontation, and widespread, instantaneous impact.

Further exacerbating the problem, tweets and Facebook posts are permanent, often made without reflection, and easily misinterpreted:  big drama in a small package.

Why employers should be concerned:

Workplace bullying, in all forms, has serious negative effects on employees and the business. Employees that are bullied may experience stress, low productivity, anxiety, trouble with relationships, health problems, and absenteeism.

The workplace could experience high turnover costing the organization money in hiring and training new employees, low productivity, and difficulty hiring quality employees as word spreads of the toxic work environment. The organization could be opening itself to legal action if it encourages this behavior or does not do anything to stop it.

What employers can do to prevent cyberbullying:

  • Promote a work culture where all bullying is not tolerated
  • Establish a clear written and well communicated policy regarding bullying and acceptable use of technology
  • Provide training for staff and management in how to deal with bullying in the workplace
  • Remind staff that anything posted on the internet is out of their control and potentially there forever.
  • Remind people to stop and review an email before sending and consider the reaction of the receiver.

What to do if you are the target of workplace cyberbullying:

  1. First, know that what you are experiencing is not your fault and there is help.
  2. Let your Human Resources department know what is happening.
  3. Take screen shots of the behavior for proof, if needed.
  4. Avoid responding to messages from a bully.
  5. Block anyone who continues to send messages.
  6. Report the individual to the social media site.

Cyber bullying is a very passive form of bullying. It is as serious as any other form of workplace bullying and has the potential to be even more insidious.

Remember, the bully’s nature is to try and take your power because they feel they do not have their own. You do not have to give them anything and you have every right to set up these personal boundaries.

References:

  1. http://www.workplacebullying.org/multi/pdf/survey_flyer.pdf
The only way to truly end bullying is identifying the problem and taking steps to stop it – as nurses, we owe it to ourselves!

Renee Thompson

Take care and stay connected —  Renee

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Dr. Renee Thompson works with healthcare organizations that want to overcome the leadership and clinical challenges their people face every day. If you’d like to find out more about her programs, please visit her website www.reneethompsonspeaks.com.

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