Psychologists at Sweden's Lund University surveyed 6,000 people to see how they interact with others on the job. They found that modern workplace bullying is less about pushing and shoving and more about devious, underhanded maneuvers intended to get under a co-worker's skin.
There is a spot of good news, however: Many companies are taking workplace bullying very seriously by setting zero-tolerance policies and cracking down on instances of bullying behavior. The bad news? Workplace bullies are finding increasingly subtle ways to get around said zero-tolerance policies. What are they doing, exactly?
Workplace bullies are turning to rudeness and incivility. They're "forgetting" to email a certain colleague about an upcoming meeting or event (made all the easier by blocking said co-worker via workplace apps and social media sites); spreading rumors about said co-worker; singling out teammates for praise while always excluding one, specific teammate; taking credit for another employee's work; and playing gatekeeper by withholding information the bullied employee needs to get the job done.
Oops! Didn't you get the message? I sent it out to everyone yesterday. You have to have it.
Hmm. Funny how the message never arrived in either the employee's inbox or spam folder.
Then a manager hears about it and thinks, "Well, I don't see any bullying going on here." See the problem?
Smart managers realize that workplace bullying has evolved. It's no longer an in-your-face, mano-a-mano aggressiveness so much as an amorphous, underhanded, Internet-enabled passive-aggressiveness that can be difficult to trace if management isn't paying attention.
Managers should be on the lookout for consistent productivity bottlenecks; "forgotten" emails that weren't received; frequent instances of turnover in certain job positions; miscommunications where the resulting "she said, she said" explanations don't add up; unnecessary blocking online; and empire builders.
If your company is relying heavily on social media, texting and workplace apps as a means of employee communication, then please take seriously the employee who either hints at an employee communication/productivity problem or says that he or she didn't hear about a key meeting, a project update, or anything else important they needed to know yesterday. You may just have a workplace bullying problem of the 21st-Century kind on your hands that could lead to endless turnover costs, broken employee morale, and hours of lost productivity if you choose to look the other way.
If you want to go all out, you might add specific examples of passive-aggressive rudeness and incivility (both online and offline) to the company's anti-bullying policy. Then explain the changes to employees. Message: This company does not condone subtle workplace bullying, either. With any luck, the smartphone-carrying, 21st-Century workplace bully will get the message.