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Workplace Bullying Persists despite Remote Work

The story’s well known – the pandemic triggered a surge in remote work. Employers considered this the best route to go to prevent COVID transmission among their ranks. And though it probably wasn’t considered, bullying risk was assumed also to abate as staff evacuated the traditional office. Unfortunately, things didn’t work out that way. Read on to learn how bullying has persisted despite the rise in remote work.

Rising incidents of bullying

Indeed, the adoption of video calling in the COVID office has provided fertile ground for incidents of bullying to flourish not abate.

At least that’s what the survey data suggests. In fact, a 2021 Zogby Analytics polls showed a steep 57 per cent rise in the number of workers reporting direct experience of bullying since 2017. And of those working remotely at the time, more than 40 per cent reported having been bullying.

When did the incidents happen?

The survey, conducted on behalf of the Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI), found that bullying happened during most virtual meetings. It seems workplace bullies were cognizant of the risk of leaving a paper trail, as would be generated through email.

But they didn’t mind an audience.

Half of the survey respondents said they experienced or witnessed mistreatment during virtual meetings – mistreatment that was the equivalent oof being berated at a group meeting.

And if that wasn’t bad enough, a staggering 70 per cent said it happened publicly in front of others.

Download Guide to Wellbeing Management & Developing a Mentally Healthy Workplace

Employers fail to tamp down on bullying risk

The numbers, of course, suggest that employers have lost control. What’s more, they’re courting risk – not just reputational but financial as well.

Researchers, for their part, say employers shouldn’t have been caught napping.

Organizations, according to further survey findings, understood that a major negative consequence of increasing the amount of work done remotely is the likelihood of abusive conduct rising.

As a result, researchers chide employers for not anticipating the challenges that arose. Now, with bullying entrenched in the virtual office, it’ll be much harder to stamp out.

Difficulties cited include the following:

  • Complaints cover a far longer period
  • Bullying investigations themselves are likely to have to be conducted virtually, which is often less optimal than in person; preserving confidentiality, for instance, is more difficult
    • And then arranging necessary in-person meetings might cause delays in the investigation
  • The difficulty in preventing employees from recording meetings
  • The potential for employees to create fake evidence, e.g., edited video calls, social media extracts, and audio recordings

Of course, not all is lost. As difficult as it is to root out bullying, it can be done.

The first step is to prioritize the attribute of a mentally healthy workplace as part of the safety culture. For tips on how to approach this strategy shift, download our wellbeing management guide to developing a mentally healthy workplace.

Download Guide to Wellbeing Management & Developing a Mentally Healthy Workplace