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Andrea Kay column: Cyberbullies graduate to workplace

4:23 PM, Jun. 9, 2013  |  Comments
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Cyberbullying is not a problem just at schools and among young people.

It's a growing conundrum with grown-ups at work.

If you've ever received a hostile email from someone at work or had nasty things written about you, your work or business online, you know what it's like to be cyberbullied.

A perpetrator 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."

Other times the intimidation comes via text message or a Facebook or chatroom post from a co-worker trying to ruin reputations by spreading negative gossip, criticizing colleagues or posting embarrassing photos.

Whatever shape the message takes, a cyberbully hides behind a computer with an intent to injure the receiver. And the computer attack has the same effect as face-to-face bullying: to snub, badger, browbeat or intimidate.

The aggressor can be an outlaw manager or a jealous peer. The strategy "is to confuse the person being bullied and gain power over them," says Carol-Anne Steringa, adult bullying expert.

Victims are caught off guard.

If assertive, they may retaliate using the same aggressive message, she says. If more timid, they may sabotage a project or operation intentionally or by underperforming.

Others take stress leave.

I know people who have left their jobs for good. No matter what happens, it also hurts the company.

The mark of a bully is that they don't know the first thing about dealing with people. They are often passive aggressive. They use pressure tactics. So if things are not going their way, they hurt rather than help, Steringa says.

For business owners and authors - yours truly included - the work of a cyberbully can be particularly damaging. Many use fake names or are anonymous.

"Book review sites are great places for bullies to hang out," Steringa says.

Randy McNutt, author of "Too Hot to Handle: An Illustrated Encyclopedia of American Recording Studios of the 20th Century," saw a review on Amazon.com "saying my book is the worst ever published, poorly written, poorly designed and filled with errors. The person also mentioned that I failed to include a certain recording studio in my book, which puzzled me. I looked up the studio and saw he worked there. I realized why the guy was giving me a hard time since I hadn't written about this studio."

I once found a review of one of my books among all the others that praised the book describing it as "useless ... Don't waste your money." The anonymous reviewer instructed readers instead to buy another author's books. Hmmm, wonder who wrote that? The author, perhaps? Someone close to him?

Many writers tell me they receive anonymous, threatening emails at times, full of foul language and scrappy attacks from people who never would have the nerve to say such things in person.

Such people "seek power to attack others ... by taking the power away from another," Steringa says. Offering honest, critical analysis about a product or service is one thing. But "a damning, abusive, negative rant is e-bullying."

Surveys show an increase in cyberbullying incidents at work. One study from National Library of Medicine of the National Institutes of Health showed that 10.7 percent of respondents were cyberbullied.

Even though 25 states have introduced legislation to deal with bullying in the workplace, none have yet become law.

If you are cyberbullied at work, deal with it directly and swiftly. Document what you've received, and if your supervisor is the tormentor, talk to him or her first, Steringa says. If it continues, take your evidence to a trusted leader at the company and your human resources contact.

Resist the urge to bully someone back. The last thing we need are more grown-up bullies at work.

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