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  • Writer's pictureSile O'Donnell

Responding to new forms of bullying in the new world of work

Research carried out in Ireland indicates that workplace bullying is on the increase, and it results in 1.7 million lost working days lost and costs the economy €239 billion[1]. Bullying can cause long-term trauma and damage for victims, and it affects individual and workplace wellbeing and engagement. What impact does the significant increase in remote working during and beyond the Covid19 pandemic have on dignity in the ‘new’ workplace? Is it a positive or negative one?

Research carried out by the CIPD[2] in June 2020 shows that 52% of respondent organisations had more than 75% of employees working remotely, and 70% of employers stated that they will facilitate more employees to work remotely after the pandemic. The combination of remote working and rapid changes to roles can have a detrimental effect on stress and interpersonal relationships. Research shows that stress and toxic work environments create a breeding ground for bullying behaviours. We need to be mindful of the many forms that cyber bullying can take place in online working environments, particularly because they may be less visible. Examples include exclusion from online meetings, inappropriate emails, and inappropriate behaviours in online meetings and workshops.

Culture plays a powerful role in creating this breeding ground – for example in how people interact, how conflict is managed and resolved, and how psychologically safe employees feel. These components of culture don’t go away just because people are remotely working. People may feel less safe and supported, and it is vital that organisations ensure dignity and respect for employees in the new world of work. Toxic conversations and repeated inappropriate behaviour can intensify and go unchecked because we are missing a big component of the communications process – for example in the ‘Zoom world’ we typically observe body language from the ‘shoulders up’, and therefore words and voice tone can take on greater importance and intensity and a different meaning.

In this changing world of work, how can we ensure dignity at work and a zero tolerance approach to bullying, harassment and sexual harassment? How can we support employees to speak out and raise concerns and ensure that they don’t feel further isolation and stress while working remotely?

How we do show and learn to express empathy in new ways while remote working? How we do ensure dignity and respect in online meetings and workshops? How do we ensure that people know their rights and obligations in relation to ensuring dignity at work?

PAI’s two hour Dignity at Work programme on 25 September 2020 will explore these and many other important questions, to help people to ensure dignity and respect at work.

[1] Hodgins M, Pursell L, Hogan V, McCurtain S, Mannix-McNamara P and Lewis D. (2017): Irish workplace behaviour study. Wigston: IOSH.

[2] CIPD Ireland (2020): The impact of COVID-19 on pay, jobs and employee concerns,

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