I’m sure everyone has experienced at least one instance of bullying by email, text, or Facebook. It’s a lot easier to be mean to someone when they’re not standing in front of you and with the increasing use of technology as a means of mainstream communication, we’re seeing a rise in horrible conduct – and not just by adolescents. It’s also happening in the workplace.
According to Cnet.com, researchers discovered that 80 percent of surveyed subjects claimed to have experienced some sort of form of cyberbullying at work. Whether it’s a cutting sarcastic comment or social media gossip, employees are bringing a little playground to the boardroom.
I’ll never forget an incident I had a few years ago with a senior executive who had a reputation for passive-aggressive behavior and who became upset by an email response from me on some issue. He responded furiously in ALL CAPS for several paragraphs (and included several other executives on his response), and I still remember the awful feeling I got in the pit of my stomach over the interaction. This person was clearly “yelling” at me, and when I responded by pointing this out, the CAPS and the language in the next response became even more furious. I finally made the trip up a couple of floors to speak directly to this person and talk the issue out like adults.
Why does ALL CAPS come across as shouting? In What People Think When You Type in All Caps, Kathryn Vercillo explains:
The traditional thing that “all caps” writing has come to mean on the Internet is that you are doing this because you want to convey a tone similar to yelling. A message or article that is written entirely in capital letters is jarring to look at because we don’t typically receive messages that look this way. This is comparable to hearing yelling when what we normally hear is quiet speech. The message that is sent in ALL CAPS comes across as yelling or threatening. This will often cause people to react to the message negatively out of a defensive posture even if the actual words that are in the message are not angry. The situation is exacerbated when the content of the written piece is negative or angry because this fuels the fire of “yelling” that appears to be going on here.
Vercillo also argues that there are other negative assumptions coming from the use of ALL CAPS including:
- People assume that the writer is trying to demand attention;
- People may assume that you have a lack of skill with technology;
- People may assume that you are an immature writer;
- People may assume that you are lazy;
- People may wonder if you are trying to be a rebel.
And if this weren’t enough, according to Miles Tinker, renowned for his landmark work, Legibility of Print, using ALL CAPS inhibits the reader’s ability to effectively digest the information one is trying to convey:
All-capital print greatly retards speed of reading in comparison with lower-case type. Also, most readers judge all capitals to be less legible.
So what exactly is workplace cyberbullying? According to Northeastern University, cyberbullying is just like traditional workplace bullying and harassment in the workplace, but involving electronic devices and online communications. A report by the consulting firm CQR states that 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 an individual uncomfortable;
- Public shaming via a mass email;
- Sharing embarrassing, offensive, or manipulated images or videos of an individual;
- Spreading lies and gossip – social networking sites and blogs are usually the most common ways people become victim of another person’s cyberbullying.
What should employers do to prevent cyberbullying:
- Promote a work culture where all bullying is not tolerated;
- Establish a clear written and well communicated policy regarding bullying and acceptable use of technology;
- Provide training for staff and management in how to deal with bullying in the workplace;
- Remind staff that anything posted on the internet is out of their control is and potentially there forever;
- Remind people to stop and review an email before sending and consider the reaction of the receiver;
- Encourage people to talk to each other rather than continuing the disagreement over email. A face to face conversation will remove the emotional ambiguity of email.
In Cyberbulling in the Workplace: A Growing Epidemic, Oliver Lin outlines how from a business standpoint, cyberbullying has undeniably negative consequences. According to Psychologytoday.com, demotivation reduces workplace productivity, while happiness, job satisfaction and motivation promote productivity. Professionals who have been harassed or put down online may feel that no matter how they perform, they won’t be able to gain esteem at work, which diminishes the force driving hard work.
I know first hand that following the ALL CAPS email onslaught I received from that senior executive, I avoided future contact with him when and if at all possible – going to the idea of demotivation. And this is unfortunate since he was one of the brightest and savviest executives I have ever known. But that point was completely lost by the approach he took to giving me his feedback.
A loss for the company, and a great lesson to be learned.