©2013 Gail Pursell Elliott
When we hear the word cyberbullying we usually think of young people. This technology based form of psychological and emotional abuse has been named as the cause of students taking their own lives numerous times over the past few years. But cyberbullying, mobbing and public humiliation is not just for students. We have seen embarrassing and accusatory tweets; cell phone videos and social networking posts go viral involving adults in all sorts of work environments, in closed meetings, making aside comments that are picked up and shared as well as in other situations. No one is immune.
This type of communication has now become more common and when utilized by a bully can be engineered to plant seeds of ridicule, discrediting, mistrust or doubt. For as long as we’ve had electronic mail options and other technological advances we’ve had miscommunications, misunderstandings, and messages going astray either intentionally or unintentionally. As I write this article, the Indiana State Senate, among other states, is preparing to vote on adding cyberbullying to their legal definition of bullying. Although this legislation is geared toward students, the language itself is derived from workplace harassment laws differentiating between teasing and actions that create a hostile environment.
A recent study by the University of Sheffield and Nottingham University revealed that 8 out of 10 people had experienced cyberbullying in the workplace within the past 6 months. Fourteen to twenty percent had experienced this behavior at least once a week. What is more disturbing is the lessening of impact on the observers of this form of abuse, perhaps due to the increased disassociation and dehumanization of the target. The impulse to intervene is less imperative and sometimes the impulse to join in may be heightened, especially in social networking venues. Empathy and discretion seem to dissolve in this type of environment.
Behaviors that indicate cyberbullying echo the behaviors that we see in face to face bullying and the more subtle workplace mobbing. A list compiled by the consulting firm CQR 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 and gossip – social networking sites and blogs are usually the most common ways people become victim of another person’s cyberbullying
Employment compensation attorneys are becoming more aware of the dangers and damages associated with cyberbullying in the workplace. A New York firm even has a description of what cyberbullying is on its website and offers advice on dealing with it including going through appropriate channels at work. If assistance is not forthcoming, they advise the target to contact them. They point out that the posting and emailing of intimidating information or personal data does not have to be done while on the job to be considered work related cyberbullying.
SHRM’s 2011 study showed that 20% of workplace bullying reported was via social networking sites. While many employers now have some sort of policy or code of conduct to address bullying/mobbing behavior, cyberbullying should be spelled out if not already included in these. Organizations would be well advised to clarify with staff on all levels that they can be held liable for such actions. Letting staff know that they have recourse within the organization and then following up on issues consistently and fairly can build trust and help avoid situations getting out of control. In addition it is wise to ascertain whether the policies, procedures and codes are followed organization wide.
* * * * * *
Gail Pursell Elliott, “The Dignity and Respect Lady”, has over 20 years experience in middle and upper management, founded Innovations “Training With A Can-Do Attitude” in 1998, and is author of several books including School Mobbing and Emotional Abuse and co-author of the book Mobbing: Emotional Abuse in the American Workplace. Her weekly Food for Thought is read by people around the world. Gail trains employees for corporations, associations and universities, designs sessions upon request to address specific needs and timely issues, and is a featured speaker at conferences as well as a media expert on workplace and school violence. Gail has been a guest on such programs as MSNBC’s Deborah Norville Tonight, ABC World News NOW television programs and the Workplace Violence Today program on talk radio.
Contact Gail through her website: http://www.innovations-training.com
Gail Pursell Elliott, The Dignity and Respect Lady
Mobbing, Bullying and Harassment Expert
Human Relations Consultant
Innovations “Training With a Can-Do Attitude”
PO Box 1971, Waterloo, IA 50704
“To be nobody but yourself – in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you like everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight – and never stop fighting.” – e.e. cummings