We spend most of our adult years in some form of a work environment and expect it to be a safe and productive space to practise our profession. But this is not always the case. Anyone who has experienced or witnessed abuse or harassment in the workplace will know the emotional and mental damage it can cause.
Cyberbullying is increasing in the digital age and is rearing its ugly head in the workplace. In this blog, we explore what workplace cyberbullying is and how employees and employers can tackle this form of abuse.
What is workplace cyberbullying?
Workplace cyberbullying includes all forms of online harassment and destructive behaviour that is directed at an employee (or group of employees) and causes the victim/s emotional and mental harm.
This behaviour is usually repetitive and seeks to shame, intimidate, degrade or undermine the intended target. This can pose a safety risk to the employee(s) including physical, emotional and psychological stress. The abuse can take place on any digital platform including email, company intranet, project management tools, social media and cellphone messages. Cyberbullying can also occur with in-person bullying.
It’s important to note the difference between bullying and aggression in the workplace. The latter is a single act and does not take the form of repeated abuse or ongoing destructive behaviour. “Tough” or “demanding” managers are not necessarily bullies as long as their behaviour towards their subordinates always remains respectful.
How to deal with a workplace cyberbully
Bullying in the workplace is very destructive as it causes victims to feel defenceless and wronged, which negatively impacts their mental health and undermines their right to dignity at work. An online article by Sherri Gordon on Verywell Mind, a trusted online source for mental health support, highlights the following as the most effective ways to deal with a workplace cyberbully:
Hold off on responding: You don’t want to react immediately in anger as this further provokes the bully. Think carefully about what you want to say.
Remain calm and try to think rationally: It’s natural to want to avoid the situation altogether, but this is often not possible when you have to work with the bully. When you respond, do so in writing and think carefully about the wording.
Make it known that the behaviour has to end: Communicate to the bully that you have been offended and that you expect the behaviour to stop immediately.
Document everything: Screenshot every detail of the harassment and create an email folder in your inbox with a timeline of all events.
Report the cyberbullying: If the behaviour persists, approach your manager or HR representative with the data you’ve gathered to support your claims.
Approach the authorities if the cyberbullying includes threats: Any violent or death threats, stalking behaviour outside the workplace and any other types of physical harassment should be reported to the police.
Close off communication with the cyberbully: Delete your existing social networking profiles and email accounts and create new ones.
Take the high road: Be careful not to say or do anything you might regret afterwards. Remain calm and think about the consequences of what you plan to do or say.
Reach out for support: Approach friends and family for support, speak to others who have endured similar harassment and reach out to a professional for help.
Create a cyberbully-free work environment
Cyberbullying is relatively new on the list of issues to address in the workplace, but there’s a great deal employers can do to find meaningful ways to deal with it. The work environment that you create is a good indicator of what behaviour is acceptable and unacceptable between coworkers.
Adopting a strong stance against any acts of harassment or bullying is an excellent measure to prevent these actions from taking place in your organisation. It’s important that the ethical tone of the business filters down from the top. A zero-tolerance approach to bullying is crucial and any complaints received should always be taken seriously and accorded the proper investigation process.
Management should have a firm policy in place with the exact steps that will be taken against any employee accused of cyberbullying. It should also offer professional help to a victim to ensure that they feel safe in the work environment again and to address any psychological damage they might be experiencing.
Lisa Burger (social worker)
083 266 0352