Impacts of cyberbullying in the workplace ‘worse than conventional bullying’: study
TORONTO – The term ‘cyberbullying’ typically evokes images of youth in school environments, but a new British study concludes the effects can be worse when the abuse occurs in the adult workplace.
In three separate surveys, 320 British university employees were asked to document their experiences with cyberbullying. The study results showed that victims of cyberbullying tended to have “higher mental strain and lower job satisfaction” as compared to traditional bullying.
Dr. Aaron Schat, an associate professor of organizational behaviour and human resources management at McMaster University says that while cyberbullying in the workplace is a newer phenomenon, the dynamics between what we know as traditional bullying (whether at school or in the workplace) and cyberbullying are similar.
He says the challenge with cyberbullying in the workplace may be that it lacks a so-called safe haven, or a physical area where the victim can take refuge to avoid the bully. He says this may also be the reason why victims feel more emotionally distressed.
“Unless you completely avoid any media, [cyberbullying] has a way of reaching you and even if you yourself are not opening the e-mails, or looking at it, things can be posted on the web about you even without your knowledge and awareness, and it still can have an effect.”
Jacqueline Power, an assistant professor of management at the University of Windsor’s Odette School of Business has based her career on studying workplace bullying issues.
She says while most employees think that standing up to their bully will make things better, it won’t lead to happier outcomes.
The victim’s only option is to quit the job.
“Research says people start out actively working with bullies, so they try to talk to them … over time, the bullying escalates and because it escalates and because it’s ineffective, [the victim] becomes more passive,” said Power.
Ontario resident and anti-bullying expert Jim Jordan of reportbullying.com disagrees with Power. He says in provinces like Ontario where bullying is a crime thanks to Bill 168, people won’t face consequences for coming forward and should feel empowered.
“The majority of people who do not speak up think that if they speak up about their boss, supervisor, manager or whoever it is… that they’re going to get demoted, change a shift, that they’re going to get fired for speaking up,” said Jordan.
“That is no longer the case.”
However tragic, our experts agreed that when it comes to cyberbullying in the workplace, more education and awareness needs to take place.
As an example, Power says a stigma still exists around victims who come forward and implicate their bully.
Schat adds that often, even in organizations that say they implement anti-bullying practices, there are smaller forms of implicit tolerance that take place, which grows into an “unintentional tolerance of aggression and bullying.”
“There is a tendency to let little stuff slip,” said Schat. “But that little stuff is what bullying is, it’s that accumulation of small aggressions, small put-downs, small humiliations, when that stuff takes place daily or multiple times a day over a period of time, that’s really what bullying is.”
Our experts recommend the following tips for employees to deal with bullying in the workplace
Try to find a safe haven
Talk to peers
Ask for affirmation
Document the abuse
Don’t reply to bullying messages