What goes on behind closed doors…
This isn’t a post about people’s personal lives, but a fallout of the trend to work from home.
Although remote working is infinitely more convenient for the employee, and in some ways, the employer, it has its drawbacks. One appears to be an increase in cases of ‘workplace’ bullying. According to a recent survey, tribunal cases in the UK have risen by 44% since the pandemic began and a significant portion of the working population carried out their roles from home.
This is a shocking statistic. Perhaps the reason why bullying in shared workplaces is a lower figure is because witnesses tend to be around, i.e. a manager, co-workers, even the general public. Working from home, however, there appears to more opportunities for someone to be bullied whilst their management remains blithely unaware.
This statistic suggests that bullying does not need both parties to be physically present, and that there may be other, less confrontational ways that you can be discriminated against whilst working remotely. For example, having links to important video meetings kept from you, ‘lost’ digital files and emails, people stealing credit for work you’ve completed…these are easy ways to single out or undermine a colleague.
Bullying, rudeness and derogatory remarks are shielded from others within a digital one-to-one (unless it’s recorded—which isn’t common practice for menial or routine meetings). In this instance, any bullying behaviour is your word against theirs, and if it’s someone senior that’s the bully, this is difficult to prove. Can the anonymity of being able to say what you want to a remotely working colleague bring out a different side to people? Is it simply an open invitation to be nasty to a co-worker if you know that you’re unlikely to be pulled up on it? I’d like to think that, on the whole, people have more of a conscience and better natures than to bully others simply because they could get away with it.
It can already be isolating to work from home, but if you’re then subject to bullying from a colleague or manager, this could have a huge impact on your mental health—greater, perhaps, than if the scenario was being played out in the company’s offices or business premises. At least in the latter, you can effectively shut the door on the problem until the next day. We all know how difficult it is, in comparison, to enforce boundaries between work and home life when your PC and paperwork may be sat in your eyeline as you try to relax in the evening. This can make bullying seem more acute if you’re a remote worker—the perpetrator hasn’t just crossed a line, if bullying you via a screen whilst you work from home, they’ve crossed a boundary by harassing you in your sanctuary, your safe space.
There’s no doubt that it’s harder for managers to keep track of their teams when they’re spread out across the district and they’re all behind a screen, but the same respect should be applied than if they were all stood in front of you.
I never got to grips with digital networking during the pandemic. When we were all locked down, I tried to join a couple of networking sessions, but it definitely wasn’t for me. There’s more than a physical distance between attendees when a screen is involved. I believe that digital meetings are fine for educational/learning purposes or one-to-one conversations, but I found, in group sessions, only those with the loudest voices spoke up—the majority just watched and listened. In smaller groups, e.g. in so-called ‘break out rooms’, I didn’t feel the situation improved; there was always confusion over whose turn it was to talk and the shared awkwardness just made it an experience I didn’t want to repeat.
Why is this relevant? Well, to me, it was difficult to see the people on screen as real-life individuals. We watch characters on screen for entertainment purposes, and it’s difficult to make the connection that the face before you is a full-blooded person you work with. This perceived distance could make it easier to be rude or cutting to someone, far more than you would if they were in your presence. Think about it—how many people are more abrupt or opinionated in comments they make on social media than in real life? If the recipient of their words was stood in front of them, do you imagine they would say the same?
I can therefore believe—though not condone—greater instances of bullying when a screen is involved. I think it makes it easier to feel detached from the person in pixels, which could influence your behaviour towards them (though I’m no psychologist).
That’s no excuse, however, to treat colleagues any differently than you would if you all worked from the same office/factory/workspace. Even if, morally, this doesn’t make you think differently about how you treat colleagues and connections when working remotely, you should perhaps look at it from a legal standpoint. If technology is involved, there’ll be a ‘paper trail’. It’s also easy to capture a recording of any abuse.
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