In 2016, SHRM ran a story about a 31-year-old female fire fighter from Fairfax County in the US who was found dead after committing suicide. Evidence suggested that the tragedy had followed a prolonged stint of online abuse and bullying from her co-workers. Sadly this is not an isolated case; the rise of technology has led to a significant rise in cyber bullying-related suicides according to news reports. And while teenagers are often thought to be the most vulnerable target group, cyber bullying can affect people of all ages and from all walks of life – including those in the workplace.

What is workplace cyber bullying?
Cyber bullying is classed as harassment, humiliation or intimidation carried out by electronic means such as a smart phone, tablet or computer. The majority of cyber bullying is thought to be carried out over social media platforms such as Facebook and Internet forums, but it can also come in the form of abusive or threatening text messages or emails. Bullying in the workplace is not a new phenomenon but unfortunately technology has given bullies another platform from which to target their victims. Email systems, Blackberries and internal message boards all give way to communication that can be used maliciously. And social media also gives bullies the opportunity to continue their attack long after working hours have ended.

How can cyber bullying affect an employee?
Cyber bullying can have a number of emotional and psychological effects on the victim. They may begin to experience feelings of anxiety, self-loathing, humiliation and even physical illness. They may dread coming to work and as such their motivation and productivity will suffer, perhaps even putting their job at risk. Unfortunately, some firms do not take cyber bullying as seriously as traditional bullying in the workplace but the effects can be just the same and can really hinder the well being of their employee.

What can HR and management do to prevent cyber bullying?
Canada already has serious legal legislation on the subject of cyber bullying. HR teams and management alike would do well to introduce similar laws into their company policy and take necessary action against anyone who is breaching them. Encouragement and support should be given to employees who are brave enough to speak about being bullied. It may also be worth considering suitable training to brief staff on the nature of inappropriate technology usage and expectations both in and out of the workplace.

-Jenny Holt