Healthy Workforce

How to Stop Cyberbullying in the Workplace

Harassment is harassment whether in person or online

Nurse sitting against the wall in a hospital hallway, hand on forehead, feeling despair.

Tory is the manager on a 22-bed urology unit. As soon as she arrives at work, one of her nurses rushes into her office and says, “Did you see what Carrie posted on Facebook about Imani?” Tory learns that Carrie made nasty remarks about Imani’s competence (or lack of), her appearance, and her accent. What makes the post worse is that Imani is a new nurse and Carrie is her preceptor! Carrie also named their organization in her post. What should Tory do?

If you’ve ever received harassing email from someone at work or had nasty things posted about you online by a coworker, you know what it’s like to be a target of workplace cyberbullying.

Cyberbullying has the same intent as face-to-face bullying: to snub, badger, browbeat, or intimidate. It can take many forms: spreading negative gossip to ruin your reputation, making malicious comments, or sharing embarrassing photos or private information.

The effects are often devastating to the target, physically, emotionally, and mentally.

What Is Cyberbullying?

Sadly, as technology evolves, it often creates new ways for people to be cruel to one another. There are as many types of cyberbullying as there are forms of online communications.

Some examples include:

  • Sending malicious or threatening emails, texts, or direct messages (DMs).
  • Mass email or social media posts that spread lies and gossip.
  • Sharing embarrassing or offensive images or videos of an individual online (including fake or manipulated images).

Digital Damage

Cyberbullying is easier than traditional bullying. Some forms of online harassment have the benefit of anonymity, and people often say things online that they’d be reluctant to say to someone’s face.

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Electronic communications are often sent impulsively. Even public figures may post, text, or tweet with almost no reflection. Unfortunately, an ill-considered outburst online is almost impossible to take back.

The promise of widespread impact can also be hard for bullies to resist. A single mean tweet or Instagram post can go viral in a matter of minutes or hours, and may result in many people, even complete strangers, ganging up on the same hapless target.

Concerns for Employers

Nurses who are bullied may suffer increased stress, low productivity, anxiety, health problems, and absenteeism. Cyberbullying also undermines team unity, especially if it takes place over a platform everyone uses.

In California, employers can be held legally liable for cyberbullying that is directed at their employees. Harassment is harassment, and online cruelty often leaves a digital record that can’t be erased.

Worse, cyberbullying is often publicly visible. It can be hard enough for organizations to attract and retain quality employees without evidence of a toxic work environment being splashed all over social media!

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What employers can do to prevent cyberbullying:

  • Promote a work culture where bullying isn’t tolerated, in person or electronically.
  • Establish clear written policies and consistently enforce them; remind staff that violations may result in disciplinary action.
  • Provide training for staff and leadership in how to recognize and deal with all forms of workplace bullying, including cyberbullying.
  • Promptly investigate and address any complaints involving employees or contractors.

If You’re a Target

If you’re a victim of cyberbullying, you might second-guess your own reactions, especially if people around you dismiss the harassment because it’s “only” online. However, cyberbullying is every bit as serious as any other form of bullying and can be even more insidious.

Here are steps you can take to protect yourself:

  • Don’t respond or engage. Trying to argue or defend yourself may just make things worse.
  • Take screenshots of the malicious posts or messages as evidence. Note the date and time.
  • Block the bullies if possible.
  • Report the harassment to the social media or messaging platform administrators.
  • Document everything! Tell your manager or HR representative what is happening.

Social media platforms and digital communications are valuable tools that can strengthen teamwork and connect nurses with each other. Let’s all agree to use them for those positive purposes!

RENEE THOMPSON, RN, DNP, FAAN, CSP, is the CEO and founder of the Healthy Workforce Institute (

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