Not Just for Schools: How to Prevent Cyberbullying at Work

As someone who’s no longer in high school, you may think cyber bullying won’t affect your wellbeing. However, this dark side of technology poses a threat to corporate wellness, infiltrating workplaces at an alarming rate. According to Rachel Clements, BSc Hons, M Psych, MAPS, co-founder and Director of Psychological Services and Principal Organisational Psychologist at the Centre for Corporate Health, ‘Over the past year, here at the Centre for Corporate Health, we have noticed a distinct increase in workers’ compensation claims resulting in workers taking time away from work. One of the major causative factors to these workers’ compensation claims is repeated harassment via digital media platforms.’ So what is cyber bullying, and how can you prevent it?


The Safe Work Australia Preventing & Responding to Workplace Bullying Draft Code of Practice 2013 defines workplace bullying as ‘Repeated and unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker or a group of workers that creates a risk to health and safety.’ This means any behaviour that is victimising, humiliating, intimidating or threatening, be it from one person or a group. But where does cyber bullying come in? Clements explains, ‘This specific “brand” of bullying occurs using technology and platforms such as email, SMS, social media sites, blogs, discussion forums, websites and even computer screensavers. Individuals who feel disempowered in the “real world” may resort to bullying behaviour which they would not ordinarily feel comfortable doing without the pseudonym protection provided by social media avatars.’


The problem with social networking is that it provides a certain level of anonymity, meaning you can attack someone without them knowing who you are, and without really seeing them as a real human being. According to Clements, ‘Social networking can encourage antisocial behaviour and a lack of empathy…Perpetrators of cyberbullying have been labelled in the social media world as “trolls”. A victim’s response to bullying cannot be witnessed. The depersonalized medium social media can offer also give rises to a “group think” mentality, where any form of harassment can easily gain momentum and as a group, the bullying seems okay as “everyone is doing it”.’  However, cyberbullying is not okay; it can lead to a number of psychological problems. This includes:


  • Depression and anxiety
  • Psychosomatic symptoms,
  • Suicide
  • Interpersonal difficulties (both at home and at work)
  • Decreased work performance and increased absenteeism
  • Psychological injury claims
  • Bystander impact (low morale, poor job satisfaction, team dysfunction)


Cyberbullying, then, needs to be stopped, but how do you go about it? Clements notes, ‘To effectively prevent and manage workplace bullying, it is important to ensure that your workplace has the correct policies and procedures in place to set the foundation for a holistic approach to be effective. This approach needs to encompass organisational, managerial, team and individual factors, with an emphasis on organisational culture and constructive leadership.’


1. Organisational Strategies: This means defining acceptable and non-acceptable behaviour with regards to the internet, training your employees in and communicating these policies effectively, and making sure your leaders are exemplifying these policies. ‘Revisit your recruitment and staff selection process,’ Clements advises. ‘Organisations that use psychological inventories and behavioural interviewing are more likely to select an employee that will interact with colleagues in a cohesive and like minded manner.’


2. Managerial Strategies: Clements details, ‘We, at The Centre for Corporate Health, believe prevention is better than reaction, so providing training for managers to assist them in developing constructive leadership styles, is a great place to plant the seed of a healthy and nurturing culture at work. It’s important to provide ongoing coaching for managers to ensure they are equipped to handle sensitive issues such as bullying.’


3. Team Strategies: ‘It’s imperative to provide employees with the opportunity to develop their interpersonal relationships by connecting with the team, scheduling regular meetings and networking opportunities to support each other,’ Clements asserts. ‘Providing training to staff via skills based learning is also a great technique to prevent workplace bullying, as it gives individuals the skill set to understand individual differences, know effective ways to problem solve, as well as knowledge on how to build respectful relationships.’


4. Individual Strategies: Clements argues, ‘Providing employees with Emotional Resilience Training (mindfulness/positive psychology based training) gives them the ability to be less affected and strengthens their psychological hardiness. This type of training reduces the risk factors which contribute to the decline in personal resilience often resulting in an employee suffering a workplace psychological injury.’

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