Workplace Cyberbullying – how bad of a problem is it?


How prominent is workplace cyber bullying becoming? Is it recognized as a problem?


I don’t know that cyberbullying has become more prominent. It just makes bullying easier to document. Bullies use whatever tools they can to create social exclusion and to gain power.

What has happened is that cyberbullying leaves a documentation trail and evidence, so it’s easier to see the pattern of behavior that is playing out and to properly document that it is happening.

Regular verbal bullying often devolves into an argument of who said what (he said/she said or she said/she said – you get the idea). Because there isn’t any firm evidence to act on bullies are able to rationalize their behavior and/or obfuscate and that makes it harder for managers and HR people to take constructive action.

I tell my classes the best thing about cyber bullying is that it leaves a documentation trail! Bullies aren’t usually thinking strategically about their behavior. It’s much more habitual than that and it’s kind of amazing to see what sort of things bullies will put in an email with no awareness that it’s not ok.

Is it recognized as a problem?

Yes. As much as bullying is recognized as a problem. If the culture of an organization tolerates bullying, they will tolerate cyberbullying. There really isn’t a difference, it’s all bullying. The only difference is how it is manifesting. The thing to realize though is that if cyberbullying is occurring, in person bullying is occurring as well. It’s just one of the many manifestations of the pattern of abusive behavior that gets directed at a victim. It’s not separate from other bullying. It’s part of the larger pattern of what is happening.

What is new is that companies now have to deal with the fact that most victims of bullying/abuse/harassment now have evidence of what was/is happening to them so if companies don’t take bullying seriously (regardless of what form it takes) and take appropriate corrective action to protect the victims, they are going to increasingly find themselves facing lawsuits because of the tangible evidence that cyberbullying provides.

The hard part for companies is that they now need to learn how to get unwanted behavior to stop so that they know what corrective action to take that will actually work. It isn’t enough anymore to teach sexual harassment courses that say – it’s illegal, don’t do it.

CA law now requires harassment courses to teach how to prevent abusive behavior. Period. Australian companies have to prevent bullying or face legal consequences. Canada has similar laws. Companies should no longer limit their harassment concerns to sexual harassment. The best way to prevent sexual harassment is to not tolerate bullying/harassment in any form. Plus, the best defense against a bullying claim is documentation that shows the company took appropriate action when notified of the problem. That’s why I teach a behavioral approach to the problem for HR and supervisors as well as courses for staff.

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