Workplace Bullying Series – Part 6: The impact of the modern workplace on workplace bullying


Remote working, flexible hours and the ‘great resignation’ are hallmarks of the modern work environment.  They are also factors which impact how bullying occurs in the workplace and our ability to spot and define bullying behaviour.  In the final article of our series, we consider how changes to the way we work have shaped or may shape how workplace bullying presents itself.


Bullying behind a screen

With many organisations having moved to fully work from home or hybrid environments the way bullying presents itself may look different to fully in the office environment.  Over the years how we think about workplace bullying has evolved.  Though many still think of workplace bullying in line with American television depictions of horrible bosses yelling and throwing things, we know it is, more often than not, much more subtle than that.  So how would bullying show up in a hybrid or fully work from home environment?

With the modern way of working, people are more likely to communicate digitally and less likely to be in the workplace at the same time.  This can create disconnect between team members, particularly when they have not met in person before.

As a result, misunderstandings between colleagues are more likely to occur in digital rather than in face-to-face communication.  This is because online messaging lacks the nuances of tone and body language and in the absence of tone, tone can be ‘read in’.  Further, some people may feel emboldened to send messages using language they would not use in person.

The digital barrier in online communications can be a vehicle for bullying behaviour.  This may look like:

Clarifying team members’ roles and duties and setting healthy boundaries for contact and work hours can help to prevent these behaviours.


The new manager phenomenon

The ‘great resignation’ is a recent trend that has seen a surge in voluntary employee resignation.  There has been higher manager turnover as a result.  We often see when new managers enter  roles, they can receive bullying complaints.

The line between firm management and bullying can be challenging to navigate.  Setting new, or higher expectations (provided they are reasonable) in unlikely to meet the definition of bullying behaviour.  However, unreasonable behaviour from managers should not be dismissed as mere ‘management style’ without further inquiry – this would be a legally risky approach.


The label

Whether it’s a new manager with a different communication style, or the increased volume of communication, a common complaint of employees in a remote (or hybrid) working environment is that they are being micromanaged.  While this is not a new phenomenon, it does help to show how being quick to label a behaviour may be a barrier to resolving concerns.

Like micromanaging, “bullying” is a label, an umbrella term that encompasses a range of behaviours.  We encourage employers and employees alike to look behind the label and describe the behaviours that are occurring, and the impacts they are having on the individual.

Looking beyond the label is beneficial to all parties involved as it:

Get in touch with the team at Black Door Law for tailored advice on addressing conduct concerns in your workplace.  For more information on creating a safe hybrid working environment, see our article on workplace wellness.

Disclaimer:  This information is intended as general legal information and does not constitute legal advice.  If you have a specific issue and wish to discuss it, get in contact with the Black Door Law team.

This article is part of a 6 part series on Workplace Bullying, our other articles in the series can be found in the following links:

Workplace Bullying – What is workplace bullying

Workplace Bullying – Prevention is better than cure

Workplace Bullying – What to do when you receive a workplace bullying complaint

Workplace Bullying – Obligations to the complainant

Workplace Bullying – The forgotten person (obligations to the respondent)