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How to Identify Workplace Bullying While Working Virtually

Updated: Sep 15

Bullying manifests itself in the workplace is both extended and exasperated by the move to the virtual sphere.

By Sophie Jarvis I September 15, 2021




It wouldn't be unreasonable to hope that the end of school days marks an end to bullying. Unfortunately, it seems that playground bullies have simply graduated into the workplace. Workplace bullying is characterized by repeated unreasonable behavior, directed towards an individual or a group of individuals, resulting in emotional and psychological damage.


The popularity of films such as The Devil Wears Prada and Horrible Bosses shows the prevalence of workplace bullying in our society. Indeed, both films, albeit with humor, demonstrate how such behavior occurs. From sexual harassment and verbal abuse to constant undermining and an insistence on unrealistic expectations, there is a myriad of ways in which workers are victimized by bullies.


Whilst the recent increase in remote work has put an end to colleague interactions in the workplace, it has opened the doors to an increase in cyberbullying. A survey conducted by Workplace Bullying Institute found that an astonishing 43.2% of remote workers surveyed have been directly targeted by a bully. As employers and HR managers alike adjust to a different way of working, they must also adjust to the new challenges that a change in practices presents. Platforms such as Zoom, Slack, and Google Teams are now widely used as a means for communication. Despite all the benefits they offer, such programs have provided the opportunity for virtual workplace bullying.


To tackle this issue, it is important that employers and employees alike can identify workplace bullying. However, first, it is necessary to define the differences between harassment and bullying. Harassment is unreasonable behavior that aims to offend, humiliate or intimidate an individual, based on discrimination regarding race, gender, or ethnicity. Bullying, on the other hand, is unreasonable or unwelcome behavior that is repeated and poses a threat to an individual, or a group of individuals. While there are many overlaps between the two, harassment and discrimination often have legal consequences. Bullying, however, is more insidious in that it can be subtle and more difficult to detect, and therefore punish. Knowing the signs of workplace bullying can help HR managers, employers, and employees alike monitor and tackle this issue with company policies and an adjustment to company culture.


How to identify virtual workplace bullying?


There are many different ways in which a bully can operate, which range from overt tactics to subtle yet repeated methods:


· Manipulation: The use of manipulation is often a bully's trump card. As humans have an inherent tendency to seek approval, we are often susceptible to manipulation, especially if it is understated. In a corporate setting, a workplace bully may choose to ignore you, pit colleagues against one another, or use compliments excessively for personal gain.

· Over surveillance: This type of workplace bullying is often used by those in management roles. From mandating that employers keep their cameras on throughout the day to using software that enables increased surveillance, the lines between work and private life are becoming increasingly blurred. When it comes to ensuring employee wellness, employers must ensure that monitoring does not encroach on an individual's right to privacy.

· Redirecting blame: It is an unavoidable fact that everyone makes mistakes. In a corporate setting, some mistakes may weigh more heavily than others. It is, therefore, not unusual, that employees find it difficult to admit to any accidental wrongdoings. However, a workplace bully will consistently blame their own mistakes on others, to avoid reprisal.

· Exclusion: Whether it's on a Zoom meeting, or in a Slack group chat, bullies may choose to deliberately exclude individuals by ignoring their input, or belittling and mocking their ideas. This can lead to individuals doubting their competency, which can lead to feelings of inadequacy and a general lack of job satisfaction.

· Setting unrealistic expectations: The pressure of imminent deadlines is often an unavoidable reality in most jobs. However, some managers may set impossible goals and benchmarks, with completely inadequate time frames. This can lead to undue criticism, as the employee is unable to meet these unrealistic demands.

· Undermining employee's work: From blocking an individual's progress on an assignment, to promising projects to employees before handing them to someone else, there are many ways in which a manager or colleague can undermine an employee. For the victim, this can lead to feelings of frustration and inadequacy, as hard work is overlooked and unrewarded.

· Undue criticism: Constructive criticism is an important and frequent occurrence in anyone's professional life. It helps employees grow and develop both as professionals, and as individuals. However, undue criticism, such as criticism that is simply unfair or incorrect, leads individuals to feel angry and inadequate. This is a tactic used by bullies to undermine individuals and exert dominance and power.


As demonstrated above, how bullying manifests itself in the workplace is both extended and exasperated by the move to the virtual sphere. To successfully tackle this problem, companies must implement anti-bullying training, and ensure that there are guidelines and policies in place to combat workplace bullying. On a personal level, individuals are encouraged to record incidences of workplace bullying, harassment, and discrimination. Our application, Track and Assess, allows users to create a paper trail to track unwelcome behavior. This can be turned into a report to be shared with HR departments, medical professionals, legal experts, and law enforcement.

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