Dr. Renee Thompson: Cyberbullying: A New Way Nurses Bully Nurses

Dr. Renee Thompson: Cyberbullying: A New Way Nurses Bully Nurses

This post is part of a series of posts on nurse bullying and conflict in the workplace written by Dr. Renee Thompson, DNP, RN, CMSRN. Dr. Thompson is one of the top professional development and anti-bullying thought leaders in nursing.

If you’ve ever received a hostile email (or as I like to call them – nasty grams) from someone at work or had rude things written about you online via a social media platform, you know what it’s like to be cyberbullied.

A cyberbully boss might whip off an aggressive, threatening, demanding or humiliating email to someone they supervise. Something like: “If you don’t shape up, you’re going to be written up or possibly fired.” Or on a more personal note: “You’re stupid, and if I have anything to say about it, you’ll be shipped out.”

A cyberbully coworker might make fun of you, criticize, or berate you. Other times the insult comes via text message or a Facebook post trying to ruin reputations by spreading negative gossip, undermining or posting embarrassing photos.

Whatever forms the message takes; a cyberbully hides behind a computer with an intent to harm the receiver. A computer or smart phone attack has the same effect as face-to-face bullying: to squash someone. While the term initially was applied to teenagers, it is rapidly being used to apply to behavior adults are experiencing in the workplace.

Cyberbullying can take workplace bullying to a new level. All of us know how quickly emails can spread information. Imagine how the word spreads when emails, text messages or social media posts broadcast unverified rumors about a target, from unverified sources.

Also, where workplace bullying usually pits one bully against one target, cyberbullying can easily take the form of cyber-mobbing where you have many people against one target.

What is workplace cyberbullying?

According to the Cyberbullying Research Center, cyberbullying is bullying behavior in the form of intimidation, threats, humiliation and harassment that takes place through the use of computers, cellphones or other electronic devices. Cyberbullying is similar to traditional workplace bullying, but involving electronic devices and online communications. Cyberbullying includes but is not limited to:

  • Malicious or threatening emails, text messages, and tweets
  • Electronic communications that contain jokes about ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or any other topic that would make any individual uncomfortable
  • Public shaming via a mass email
  • Sharing embarrassing, offensive, or manipulated images or videos of an individual
  • Spreading rumors, lies, and gossip – social networking sites are usually the most common ways people become targets of another person’s cyber-bullying

Social media cyberbullying

Social media platforms have become popular forums for bullying and incivility. Unfortunately, it is easy to see why – cyberbullying is easier than traditional bullying. Cyberbullies have the benefit of anonymity, lack of face-to-face confrontation, and widespread, instantaneous impact.

In my opinion, cyberbullying via social media is cowardly. Why can someone not tell you something to your face by she can post it all over Facebook? Further exacerbating the problem, tweets and Facebook posts are permanent, often made without reflection, and easily misinterpreted: big drama in a small package.

How cyberbullying impacts organizations

Workplace bullying, including cyber-bullying, has serious negative effects on employees and the organization. Employees who are bullied experience stress, low productivity, anxiety, trouble with relationships, health problems, and absenteeism. We know that nurses who are bullied leave their organization in droves. We are hemorrhaging really great nurses to this problem!

What employers can do to prevent cyberbullying

  • Promote a work culture where no forms of bullying are tolerated
  • Establish a clearly written and well communicated policy regarding bullying and acceptable use of technology
  • Provide training for staff and management in how to deal with cyberbullying in the workplace
  • Remind staff that anything posted on the internet is permanent
  • Remind staff to NEVER post anything negative about their coworkers or organization on a social media site
  • Remind people to stop and review an email before sending and consider the reaction of the receiver

What to do if you are the target of workplace cyberbullying

  • Let your manager and Human Resources representative know what is happening
  • Take screen shots of the behavior on social media sites for proof, save all text messages or voice messages
  • Avoid responding to messages from a bully
  • Block anyone who continues to send messages
  • Report the individual to the social media site

Cyberbullying is a very passive-aggressive form of bullying. However, make no mistake – cyberbullying is as serious as any other form of workplace bullying! We all have to do our part to stop the cycle of bullying whether it’s at work or online!

Thanks for reading, take care and stay connected!


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