If you’ve ever received a hostile e-mail from someone at work or had nasty things written about you by a co-worker online, you know what it’s like to be a target of cyberbullying in the workplace. Or maybe the cyberbully struck via text message or a Facebook post, trying to ruin your reputation by spreading negative gossip, criticizing you, or posting embarrassing photos.
Whatever form the message takes, a cyberbully hides behind a computer with an intent to injure the receiver. A “keyboard” attack has the same intent as face-to-face bullying: to snub, badger, browbeat, or intimidate. The affects can be devastating physically, emotionally, and mentally to the target.
However, when cyberbullying happens in healthcare, it destroys the relationship among teams. And when you destroy the team, bad things happen to the patients you serve.
Does cyberbullying only happen to teenagers?
The term “cyberbullying” was initially applied to teenagers because that’s where it was seen first. However, cyberbullying has rapidly spread to adults, who are now experiencing cyberbullying in the workplace.
According to a 2010 & 2007 U.S. Workplace Bullying Survey, 35% of adult Americans report being bullied at work. That’s an estimated 53.5 million Americans! The point is bullying doesn’t just exist on playgrounds. It has evolved to the workplace and so has cyberbullying.
Some laws have been put in place to regulate teen cyberbullying, but what is being done about cyberbullying with adults? After-all, these bullies don’t just stop bullying when they graduate. They grow up and hold jobs like the rest of us, but continue their unprofessional, bullying behavior in the workplace with disturbing results.
Is the pandemic to blame for an increase in cyberbullying?
Cyberbullying isn’t another outcome the COVID-19 pandemic created. According to a blog by The Bark Team, cyberbullying has been around since the 90s, when computers became more affordable for the average household. That’s basically 3 decades of web-based bullying!
While the pandemic didn’t create cyberbullying, it didn’t help. With social media and virtual platforms like Zoom becoming more popular, it’s no wonder we’ve seen an uptick in workplace cyberbullying. More and more healthcare organizations are reaching out to us asking for help to address bullying and incivility. Some form of cyberbullying is now a common problem they share with us.
What is workplace cyberbullying?
According to Teresa Daniel, Dean of the Human Resource Leadership Program at the University of Louisville, 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 is just like traditional bullying in the workplace but involving electronic devices and online communications. Cyberbullying includes but is 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 via a social networking site
Cyber-bullying can take workplace bullying to a new level of cruelty. 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.
Unfortunately, it’s easy to see why social media platforms have become popular forums for bullying and harassment. Cyberbullying is easier than traditional bullying. Cyberbullies have the benefit of anonymity, lack of face to face confrontation, and widespread, instantaneous impact. “Keyboard courage” as they say. A quick Snapchat post can go viral across multiple platforms in a matter of hours.
Also, where workplace bullying usually pits one bully against one target, cyberbullying can easily take the form of cyber-mobbing where you have many people against one target. It’s so easy to retweet and share when you might not even know the details. Further aggravating the problem, tweets and Facebook and LinkedIn posts are forever, often made without reflective thought, and can be misunderstood: big drama in a small package.
Should employers be concerned about cyberbullying in the workplace?
Workplace bullying, in all forms, has serious negative effects on healthcare professionals and the organization itself. Healthcare professionals 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 healthcare professionals, 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.
So, bottom line is yes. Employers need to be concerned about cyberbullying in the workplace. And, need to take action.
What employers can do to prevent cyberbullying:
- Promote a work culture where bullying isn’t tolerated, in person or electronically
- Establish a clear written and well communicated policy regarding bullying and acceptable use of technology
- Provide training for staff and leadership in how to deal with bullying in the workplace and include cyberbullying as a focus
- Remind staff that anything posted on the internet my result in corrective action up to termination depending on the context
- Remind people to stop and review an email before sending and consider the reaction of the receiver
- Address any complaints of cyberbullying immediately
What to do if you are the target of workplace cyberbullying in the workplace:
Know that what you are experiencing is not your fault and there is help.
- Let your manager or Human Resources representative know what is happening
- Take screen shots of the post, email, or text for proof but DO NOT RESPOND
- Block anyone who continues to send inappropriate messages
- Report the individual to the social media site if it occurs on a social media platform
In my video about Cyberbullying on my YouTube Channel, Coffee & Conversations about Nurse Bullying, I share tips on how you can address cyberbullying if you find yourself a target at work.
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. It is another virus that infects our workplaces.
Let’s all agree to use social media, web-based platforms, and all things cyber the way they were intended; to connect with others, to share, to inspire, to learn. Let’s be mindful of what we write and say behind the screen. Someone is always on the other end.