How To Deal With Conflict In The Workplace
Behavioral Ethics in the Workplace

How Should You Handle Cyberbullying in the Workplace?

Protecting Yourself Against Cyberbullies

In my last blog I addressed cyberbullying of young children and teenagers. In today’s blog I look at cyberbullying of employees. This isn’t the first time I’ve addressed the problem of cyberbullying in the workplace. The problem persists and revisiting the issue now will shed additional light on the ethical issues.

Defining the Issues

As I have previously written, workplace bullying refers to repeated, unreasonable actions of individuals (or a group) directed towards an employee (or a group of employees), which are intended to intimidate, degrade, humiliate, or undermine, or which create a risk to the health or safety of the employee(s) including physical and emotional stress.

Workplace bullying often involves an abuse or misuse of power. Bullying behavior creates feelings of defenselessness and injustice in the target and undermines an individual’s right to dignity at work.

Bullying is different from aggression. Whereas aggression may involve a single act, bullying involves repeated attacks against the target, creating an on-going pattern of behavior. “Tough” or “demanding” bosses are not necessarily bullies as long as they are respectful and fair and their primary motivation is to obtain the best performance by setting high yet reasonable expectations for working safely.

Workplace Effects

Cyberbullying in the workplace usually looks like offensive emails or text messages containing jokes or inappropriate wording towards a specific race, nationality, or about sexual preference. In these cases, the words uttered have a direct effect on the target of the bullying act through threatening email being sent to the target anonymously or not. It may include a response that is copied and pasted for the whole office to see.

Sharing embarrassing situations relating to the target with everyone online, being offensive and mean to the target on various social media websites and networks, spreading rumors or gossip online which could have a serious effect on a fellow co-worker, and downright mean-spirited actions are meant to harm the target whether on a personal or professional level.

There is no place in the workplace for cyber-bullying yet the practice persists. It’s really an extension of offensive comments we often read on social media sites and online publications. The direct cause is the lack of an internal filter and ethical compass to guide actions.

Cyberbullying can cause significant emotional distress and lead to a diminished workplace performance. The danger of cyberbullying in the workplace is that it follows you home after working hours. The target is put under constant harassment even when the working hours are over. The only way to avoid such harassment is having it reported to try and put an end to it.

The Scope of the Problem Stop cyberbullying

Sometimes cyberbullying in the workplace is treated with a shoulder shrug. Employers do not see how this social problem can affect the well-being of their employees, thus, their ability to produce and give the output they should be giving. The direct effect being the cyber bullying can cause the workplace to be unproductive and very stressful.

Cyber bullying in the workplace needs to be addressed through promoting a work environment that refuses to nurture a bully. As with most actions in the workplace, the best way to prevent cyberbullying is to create an ethical culture in the organization. Top management must make it clear that any form of bullying will not be tolerated.

Top management needs to issue a firm policy against bullying and the bully needs to be encouraged to seek professional help as well to avoid further infecting the culture of the organization. From the target’s side, it is better not to share personal information with co-workers; many people have resorted to not having co-workers interact with them on social media websites.

11 Ways to Deal With It

Sherri Gordon wrote a piece “11 Ways to Deal With a Workplace Cyberbully” that suggests 11 ways to handle cyberbullying at work. Here is the list:

  1. Do not respond immediately. Take time to gather your thoughts and not respond in anger. This will only provoke the bully.
  2. Keep your response calm and rational. Don’t respond in a way that involves others in the office who start to watch what is going on.
  3. Tell the cyberbully you expect the behavior to end. Communicate openly and honestly your feelings. Make sure to tell the bully you were offended and want the offensive behavior to stop now.
  4. Print and keep copies of all the harassment. Create a timeline of events; a data trail.
  5. Report the cyberbullying to your employer. This assumes the behavior persists. Use the data gathered to support your claims.
  6. Report the cyberbullying to Your Internet Service Provider. Forward copies of the offensive emails on social media to your ISP to establish a record of abuse.
  7. Contact the police immediately if the cyberbullying includes threats. Death threats; threats of physical violence; stalking behavior and other types of harassment should be reported to the police to establish a record of abusive behavior by the bully.
  8. Close the doors of communication to the cyberbully. Cancel current social networking and personal email accounts and open new accounts.
  9. Report anonymous cyberbullying. The police may be able to track down who is sending the emails and messages.
  10. Take the high road. Don’t say or do anything that you will regret later on. Think rationally and consider the consequences of your intended actions.
  11. Find support. Seek help from friends and family, others who have gone through what you have had to endured and/or professional help.

Creating an Ethical Workplace Environment

Since cyberbullying in the workplace is relatively new on the list of issues one faces in a workplace, employers have not yet figured a meaningful way to address the issue. When it is mentioned, it is usually under the clause of bullying altogether, which is a good step towards tackling the issue but should not be the final one.

The workplace environment plays a crucial part in determining what is acceptable and what is unacceptable to say or do to a co-worker. An organization that promotes a negative atmosphere towards acts of harassment or bullying will most likely be more successful in preventing such actions. As with most things it all comes down to setting an ethical tone at the top.

Posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on September 19, 2019. Dr. Mintz recently published a book titled Beyond Happiness and Meaning that explains the ethics of personal relationships, workplace interactions and on social media activities. Cyberbullying issues are addressed. Visit his website, sign up for his newsletter, and follow him on Facebook and “Like” his page.