Cyberbullying in the Workplace can lead to Tragedy

Posted May 22, 2016 by Mary McGinley

Almost anyone can cite a time in their life when they worked in a less-than-ideal or even hostile work environment.  In some rare instances, what seems like simple tension in the workplace can have devastating results. That is what happened in the case of a 31-year old Virginia firefighter, whose body was found last month in Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park.

Investigators determined that Nicole Mittendorff had been the victim of cyberbullying and it is suspected that someone she worked with was ultimately the cause of Mittendorff making the tragic decision to end her own life. The perpetrator(s) made anonymous postings that called firefighter Mittendorff derogatory names – possibly over a period of years.

Mittendorff’s supervisors told investigators that they had been unaware to any bullying against the woman. They also did not know that coworkers could have been the ones doing it.

It seems almost unimaginable that grown adults would resort to such immature behavior of trying to intimidate another person through the use of computers, cellphones or other electronic devices. However, with the increase in the use of social media across so much of our everyday lives, experts say that the problem could get a whole lot worse unless companies and HR professionals make it a point to step in when it is occurring and deal with it swiftly.

Currently, 25 US states have passed legislation against the practice of cyberbullying. Three states want to make it a crime that would cause perpetrators of cyberbullying to face charges with fines and possibly jail time if convicted.

In a survey conducted by the Workplace Bullying Institute in 2014, approximately 6.5 million workers said they were affected by bullying in the workplace. The data indicated that some 61% of those who responded indicated that their employer failed to react to abusive conduct. The survey also showed that some 21% of the respondents contemplated suicide.

Bullying in the workplace causes stress to those being bullied and can increase absenteeism, a loss of productivity and higher turnover rates for a company. It can also lead to tragedies like this one.

Where HR comes in

Social media and online life have affected every aspect of our personal and professional lives. Unfortunately, this tool that can prove to be useful in so many other instances can also be misused and cause difficulty for others in the workplace.

Taking complaints of bullying seriously at the outset is important. Strategies for dealing with such situations can include supporting victims of cyberbullying as well as counseling coaching and disciplining those who are doing the bullying. Having clear guidelines about what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior in the workplace is also important.

At Einstein HR, we are committed to providing every aspect of human resource service and management above and beyond what our clients expect. We provide all level of services to help you in your HR and PEO decisions and we can help your organization as well. Contact us today to find out how.