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Sunday, 24 July 2016

Why cyberbullying is described as terrifying by targets: Safety@Work

10 strategies used by cyberbullies & 6 signs you're being targeted: A Safety @Work initiative

If you're working in a dysfunctional organisation tacitly or overtly permitting disrespectful, abusive workplace behaviours then you're at risk of bullying and cyberbullying. 

Studies have found that when a dichotomy is observed between outdated or ambiguous employee management policies and employees' actual, 'lived' workplace experience, then you are experiencing 'organisational deviance'. 

Contemporary organisational research of Australian workplaces matched levels ofbusive face-to-face behaviours with levels online workplace abuse (in some cases the online abuse exceeded the face-to-face bullying). 


Online communications can be conducted covertly and are often unsupervised.

What cyberbullying means for you

Targets experiencing online and offline work-related abuse quickly leave and seek employment elsewhere. The reason being, organisational cultures that tacitly support aggressive behaviours in order to 'deliver results' have no reason to change. 

As previously discussed in previous articles (here and here), targets are often highly ethical and/or effective, and/or generally well liked and/or highly skilled (these qualities are a threat to organisational bullies). 

Once these targets realise they're being bullied (step 1) and stop blaming themselves for their co-workers' juvenile behaviour (step 2), and realise that the organisation is unable (or uninterested) in helping (step 3), they then tend to focus on their CV (step 4), and leave to find employment elsewhere (step 5).

Organisational indicators that 'something is rotten in the state of Denmark' 

(Shakespeare, Hamlet).

Unusually highly levels of staff churn either across the organisation or within one particular area or group (e.g., all your Band 1s and 2s in Corporate leave within a 6 - 12 month period) then you know something is deeply wrong. If this statistic is linked to low or no official reporting of bullying or whistleblower prevalence rates, then you know something is very wrong indeed (Caponecchia & Wyatt, 2011; White, 2000). 

For more organisational indicators, read Dr Farley's article, 'Cyberbulling in the Workplace', or read section 2.7.2 Consequences: Workplace Cyberbullying  in 'Prevalence & consequences of negative workplace cyber communications in the Australian public sector.'

Caponecchia, C., & Wyatt, A. (2011). Preventing workplace bullying: An evidence-based guide for managers and employees. Sydney: Allen & Unwin. 
White, L. (2000). Changing the ‘whole system’ in the public sector. Journal of Organizational Change Management, 13(2), 162-177. doi: 10.1108/095348 10010321481

Targets describe cyberbullying as terrifying 

Workplace cyberbullying is bullying using technology.

Qualitative studies have found targets view cyberbullying as more terrifying than face-to-face bullying.


Because anonymous, abusive, professionally defamatory content, video or images can be rapidly broadcast and viralised any time and any where, across many different social media platforms. A target can wake up one morning and realise their professional reputation is in tatters, and never know why.

It also means the perpetrator(s) could be working next to you as your supervisor, co-worker, a  junior staff member, or a client. They're just sitting and watching you react. You just never know.

Perpetrators now have the capacity to use personal and work-related social media websites and  communication technologies to hound you. 

Taking a holiday, or changing workplaces, to get away from the behaviour is almost impossible when derogatory (and anonymous) posts keep landing in your personal Facebook page. 

Some research: A 2013 study revealed cyberbullying is much more likely to escalate face-to-face workplace confrontations, where over half the study respondents said they'd front up to the workplace cyberbully. One in 10 study respondents said they’d probably respond in kind to the online perpetrators through similar cyber technologies.

Is this something we really want to deal with in our workplaces?

Can I protect myself from cyberbullying?

I've written in detail about some tactics to use to protect yourself and interrupt the online behaviour.

Tips on protecting your private online data against cyberbullies, read 'Tips to stop disgruntled co-workers or clients using your online data against you: Online safety@work'

Strategies to help you interrupt or stop workplace cyberbullying, read  ‘How to deal with workplace cyberbullying’  and ‘Online & offline workplace bullying can affect anyone’.

Also, download my free eBook '20 killer tactics to staying sane in toxic workplaces’, which you can access through my blog

In brief, to regain your privacy I believe targets must increase the protections around their private online information, report the threatening online content to their local police, their boss, workplace HR and ICT area(s), AND the administrators of the social media platform being abused. Consider seeking private legal advice.

You could also switch everything off and think about changing accounts. 

Think hard about this as this strategy isolates you, which is exactly what the cyberbully wants, and doesn’t always work. .

6 signs you're being targeted by a cyberbully

  1. Social media sourced information is being against you at work
  2. Your personal online privacy has been eroded in some way (e.g., your Facebook account was shared across work groups without your permission, or medical or performance assessment was emailed or shared across workplace (or private) social media platforms)
  3. Embarrassing work related photos were shared without your knowledge across workplace cyber platforms
  4. Unwanted romantic advances were emailed or posted to you at work by known (or anonymous) co-workers
  5. You discover secret online discussions have been conducted by colleagues or co-workers behind your back to deride or defame your personal or professional reputation
  6. You receive unpleasant or defamatory remarks about yourself or about a colleague via email, sms, or work social media platform

10 common tactics used by workplace cyberbullies

Study participants in the first academic Australian research of the view of employees working in government organisations, three quarters of those survey reported suffering or observing person-related bullying (online slander, social isolation and insinuation about people’s mental health) or task-related cyberbullying (micro-management, inconsistent allotment or incompatible distribution of tasks, persistent criticism of a person and their work).

Task-related cyberbullying

1.      Tasked with unmanageable work loads - used 83% of the time.
2.      Tasked with impossible deadlines - used 77% of the time.
3.      Tasked with work below competency level – used 63% of the time.
4.      Tasks removed or replaced - 65%.
5.      Excessive monitoring of tasks - 53%.

Person-related cyberbullying

6.      Your opinions or views ignored - used 78% of the time.
7.      Ignored or excluded - used 69% of the time.
8.      Target of spontaneous anger - 57%.
9.      Repeated reminders of past mistakes - 55%,
10.      Persistent criticism - 51%.

Effectiveness of existing workplace measures to resolve cyberbullying.

To my knowledge, not a huge amount of research has been done to satisfy this question in relation to cyberbullying at work.

In thinking about it, the three Australian studies I conducted in my research at QUT may actually be the first to have asked this question in relation to online bullying (happy to be advised). 

To cut to the chase, my research found that over half (56.2%) of the participants in study 3 (the qualitative survey) reported existing organisational measures (including culture and governance processes) as ineffective in dealing with workplace cyberbullying.

Next week I’ll be writing about recognising 20  warning signs online or offline bullying is occurring in your team or organisation.

Dr Flis 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.

Contact Dr Flis at, LinkedIn  or follow Flis on her blog Twitter or Facebook

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