An insidious new wave of bullying has arrived, and it is important to be able to identify it, explains Carole Spiers
Last week, I delivered a presentation on workplace bullying to a group of volunteers in a large retail company, in the UK. This group have volunteered to provide a listening and sign posting service for anyone within their organisation who has been subject to workplace bullying, harassment or discrimination. They have all been professionally trained to give guidance to any individual who feels they are at risk and their role is to be proactive and to provide an informal route for an employee if they experience such a problem.
Bullying issues are, unfortunately, experienced around the world but not every organisation will make a commitment to provide this support to their staff and the commitment and motivation of this team is to be greatly admired.
Today’s High Levels of Stress
You may wonder why there is a need for such a team of people. With many managers under pressure to achieve targets and deadlines, it is inevitable that the high levels of stress they have to endure will affect them. Some managers under stress may demonstrate bullying behaviour without being consciously aware of it, but that does not make it any less acceptable.
Bullying, of course, is perceived differently by everyone. What is acceptable for one person is unacceptable to another. What makes one person laugh, makes another person cry. That which may work in one culture does not work in another.
There are many signs of bullying behaviour that are highly visible, for instance: the person who is publically humiliated by their manager or the individual who wrongly takes credit for someone else’s work. However, there is another more insidious form of bullying behaviour that needs to be addressed: that is so-called ‘cyberbullying’.
New technology has provided more sophisticated ways in which those inclined to bully, can harass and abuse others. Bullying by email, blogging, over the phone or text message are all increasingly used by certain individuals to cause harm to others. Sending emails or images to a colleague or friend which can be seen as offensive, is unacceptable.
Email threats may include relatively inoffensive messages in terms of content but the implied meaning behind the message can constitute a form of bullying behaviour. An example of this might be when a superior is emailing instructions to one of their team with far more work than the recipient can reasonably be expected to handle, whilst other members of the team are not being pushed in the same way.
Posting blogs and comments on networking sites can also be offensive. Quite often a person may not experience any direct form of cyberbullying but instead, the bully may leave behind anonymous comments about them on the internet which can be viewed by others.
It is always unacceptable to post someone else’s personal data online without specific authority. This is an unwarranted invasion of privacy.
So what can you do about it?
• Save email messages that contain bullying messages, and report them.
• Do not use your work email for anything other than work
• Never post your personal details online i.e. address, telephone number, age etc
Cyberbullying may be a passive form of bullying but it is every bit as serious as other types of intimidation. It also has the potential to be more damaging as it involves a wider audience. It should be treated as any other form of intimidation or aggression, requiring a risk assessment and appropriate procedures and measures to counter it.
As bullying and cyberbullying become ever more ubiquitous, it is increasingly important that it is identified early and dealt with efficiently by managers or others who have been trained to recognise its incidence and its effects.
It is unfortunate that such support teams are needed but modern technology has thrown up a method by which bullying can be anonymous and damaging to the individual, and whenever this occurs it must be dealt with strongly as early as is possible. That is why the retail company with whom I am working in the UK have had the foresight to see the importance of investing in a team to support any victims of bullying and to identify, wherever possible, the perpetrators.