While the subject of cyber bullying of children and adolescents has begun to be addressed, there has been less attention on cyber bullying in the workplace. Adults in the workplace are not immune to cyber bullying, and it can manifest itself in many different forms.
With the Information and Communication Technology revolution over the last decade, there has been a rapid growth in the number of people interacting using modern technologies, such as the Internet and mobile phones. As of 2010, there are almost 2 billion Internet and mobile phone users worldwide.
This widespread access to modern communication devices has provided an alternative medium for bullies to target their victims. Various terms have been used to describe this new phenomenon including; cyber bullying, electronic bullying, e-bullying, SMS bullying, mobile bullying, online bullying, digital bullying, and Internet bullying.
What is Cyber Bullying?
Remember! – workplace bullying can be defined as … “Repeated, unreasonable or inappropriate behaviour directed towards a worker, that creates a risk to health and safety”
Cyber bullying involves the use of information and communication technologies to support deliberate, repeated, and hostile behavior by an individual or group, that is intended to harm others.
Forms of Cyber Bullying
Cyber bullying can be accomplished in many different forms using modern technology. Although cyber bullying is becoming more prevalent in the workplace, but is not only limited to the work environment, some examples include;
E-mails – sending emails containing material of an offensive or inappropriate nature. These may include, but is not limited to, offensive jokes, images or pictures. An unfortunate yet emerging trend, is for the bully to digitally manipulate photos or images of the victim, depicting them in a derogatory or humiliating light.
- Cyber Stalking – the transmission of messages to intimidate and/or threaten the victim, resulting in that person to have concerns about their personal safety and well being.
- SMS/Text Messages – threats, harassment, offensive or insulting messages sent to mobile phones, is also a form of cyber bullying. This behaviour becomes more distressing when victims are bombarded with constant text messages, at all hours of the day.
- Social Networking Sites/Blogs – in some instances, a person may not experience a direct form of cyber bullying, but instead, the bully may leave nasty or offensive comments about the victim on blogs and social networking sites, which can be easily viewed by others.
- Impersonation – in some instances fake profiles are created by the bully on these social networking sites, where they may post personal details about the victim, or worst still, post malicious lies, gossip and defamatory remarks about the victim.
- Password Theft – gaining access to the victim’s passwords for their computer logon, email account or other online accounts. The bully can use this to lock the victim out, and/or allow others to hack the account.
Dealing with Cyber Bullying at Work
Firstly, try to resolve the problem with the person directly, if you know their identity. If the bullying persists, report the behaviour to your Manager or Supervisor, and look at what avenues are available to you to persue the matter via your organisations complaints management or grievance procedures. Also inquire as to your organisation’s policies on email and Internet use.
Remember, once you have asked the person to desist from cyber bullying, and it still continues, DO NOT continue to engage the bully by responding to offensive emails or text messages – this is what the bully wants -IGNORE IT!
It is important to report this behaviour, because workplace bullying can have negative consequences for not only the victims, but also bystanders. Victims can have emotional and physical symptoms, it can affect their social and family lives and future career advancements. For those who have to witness the bullying, it affects their moral, it reduces commitment to the organisation, lowers job satisfaction and has negative consequences for teamwork and work relationships.
In 2005, a high profile case of cyber bullying in the workplace involved that of former Queensland Chief Magistrate Di Fingleton. She was alleged to have threatened and intimidated a work colleague via a strongly worded email, and was subsequently charged with retaliating against a witness.
Although the High Court unanimously found that Ms Fingleton should never have been brought before a court, because her position entitled her to immunity from prosecution, the case reflects the sort of considerations people need to have when communicating via the Internet, email or mobile phone.
Presently in Western Australia, the terms “workplace bullying” or “cyber bullying” are not specifically covered by a single piece of legislation. However, there are a number of Acts by through which workplace bullying complaints can be made.
These are as follows:
o Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth)
o Industrial Relations Act 1979 (WA)
o Occupational Health and Safety Act 1984 (WA)
o Worker’s Compensation and Injury Management Act 1981 (WA)
o Equal Opportunity Act 1984 (WA)
If you have any questions about the impacts of Cyber Bullying in your workplace, please contact one of INVision’s Directors via our website at www.inv.com.au
Privitera, C., & Campbell, M.A. (2009). Cyberbullying: The new face of workplace bullying? CyberPsychology and Behavior, 12, 395-400.