September 10th, 2013

The Online Paradox for targets of workplace bullying


Results of the most recent WBI study (WBI-2013-Discovery) showed that bullied targets tend to rely upon the internet (72.6%), more than any other source, to first discover the term workplace bullying, and subsequently, details of its effects on their lives.

This finding is bolstered by a previous WBI study (WBI-2011-IP-E) in which targets considered social media to play a positive role in their understanding of workplace bullying. As the producers of a workplace bullying informational website that enjoys high search engine rankings, we are proud to indirectly help bullied targets.

The bad news from the findings in this 2013 study is that respondents who first discovered bullying online reported receiving no help from anyone in 79% of the cases. A more dismal finding is that respondents who either received help from no one, or did not seek help from another person relied mostly (89.8%) on the internet for details about bullying.

The convenience and anonymity of the internet seems to provide reasons for bullied targets who may initially be reluctant to seek help out of personal shame to continue their disconnection from other human beings who could help.

It is a paradox that may bring personal health consequences. Social isolation and exclusion create high levels of distress. The research on ostracism and social exclusion describes a sequence of sadness then anger then individualized reactions to the groups that reject the target that vary from prosocial (positive) behaviors directed at the group to antisocial (negative) acts. Neuroscience studies show that social exclusion triggers pain pathways in the brain.

We worry that the illusion of safety that comes from interacting with a digital source of information may interfere with human contact that seems essential to cope with workplace-induced stress.

In fact, for all stressors, social affiliation is the cure. Humans need humans. One of our fundamental human needs is to belong to groups — intimate others, family, kin, work, social groups.

The paradox leads us to question if virtual connections are sufficient to satisfy the human need for belongingness. When bullied targets call WBI for help, we always advise them to engage, and even cling to, others who love them. Over the years, we have talked directly with approximately 10,000 people, but the website has been visited by over 4 million people.

There are so many barriers to getting help from others when bullied. Offering help for 16 years online was never meant to dissuade bullied targets asking for help from family, friends and coworkers. It might be an unintended consequence.

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This entry was posted on Tuesday, September 10th, 2013 at 11:09 am and is filed under WBI Education, WBI Surveys & Studies. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.



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  1. TwylightZone says:

    This is not surprising at all. It is embarrassing to admit getting bested by bullies, whether it be at school or in the workplace. That coupled with others’ inability to relate may keep targets from confiding much to close friends and family. Sometimes when people can’t relate or understand this phenomenon, they will judge the target. Other times targets don’t want to burden their loved ones with unresolvable problems. It makes perfect sense that targets would rather discuss their experiences anonymously and look for advice and support from folks who have been there.

    • yeskia says:

      Well said. Also I might add that target’s of workplace bullying feel isolated, vulnerable and confused, effects which tend to affect logical reasoning.
      It seems that most target’s internalize the effects of bullying which is precisely the bully’s intent.

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