Monday, 7 March 2016

How to deal with workplace cyberbullying

Cyberbullying at work can be highly stressful, create job dissatisfaction and lead to reduced well-being and productivity.

While an international definition of workplace cyberbullying has yet to be recognised, researchers generally agree that workplace bullying using technology is the capacity of abusive and/or defamatory content to rapidly go viral, and hurt, embarrass or defame the target(s). 

Perpetrator(s) have the capacity to use technology to hide their identity and remain anonymous, thereby creating a power imbalance. In these instances, removing posts, images or videos from anonymous websites can take time to remove. 

Given its capacity to follow people from work to home, job to job, workplace cyberbullying has an even greater potential to impact a target’s well-being, reputation and job security 

A 2013 international business survey across 10 countries and 4000 participants found workers generally defined workplace cyberbullying as the dissemination of embarrassing work-related photos, and the sometimes covert posting of negative or unpleasant criticisms about a colleague’s appearance or work abilities through voicemail, instant messaging, social media or sms. 

Unwanted romantic advances, stalking, and secret online discussions about colleagues were also described.
Image courtesy of

Critically, cyberbullying was also reported as escalating workplace confrontations and leading to heated face-to-face or online exchanges.

Without intervention, negative workplace behaviours will always escalate up through a violence continuum, with percolating, low-levels of discourtesy and disrespect generating into forms of online and offline intimidation, harassment and bullying, and ending in retaliation, cyber assault or physical aggression (Einarsen, Hoel, Zapf, & Cooper, 2011). 

“Without intervention, the violence continuum will always escalate, always” 
Rosie Batty, 2015 Australian of the Year, 
QandA, 2015, February 23

Interrupting disrespectful, abusive, and harassing workplace behaviour is reliant on authentic and reliable managerial support and resolution processes (Caponecchia & Wyatt, 2011), and is dependant on an organisational culture and climate that’s built on civility, respect and collaborative interpersonal workplace relationships (Mattice, 2015).

However, employees suffering workplace cyberbullying do have options.

You can either ignore the communications, or consider one of the following points listed below.

In considering this list, I strongly recommend also liaising with your ICT area or branch and/or supervisor:
  • unfriend or block the person
  • change online permissions so you can view and/or manage defamatory statements or photos before they’re broadcast
  • update online privacy settings to manage who has read access to your posts 
  • report the person to your manager or supervisor, workplace ICT area, or external website or online service, and/or
  • if you know the person is not malicious and you have a good work relationship, politely and courteously ask them to stop.
If you find yourself dealing with an anonymous perpetrator(s) you may choose to:
  • again, manage your account(s) privacy settings and permissions
  • discuss the problem with friends and colleagues for support
  • change your username, accounts or delete your profile through your workplace ICT area
  • withdraw from the online collaboration forum
  • stop attending the offline events or places, and/or
  • report the problem to law enforcement.

Dr Lawrence has a BA SSc and a PhD in organisational social psychology and works with individuals and organisations as a consultant, speaker and trainer. She uses her social science expertise to enhance interactions between organisations and the people who lead and work in them by fostering new insights for diagnosing organisational problems, and build new capabilities and culture.

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