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Professional Bullies: when online bullying enters the workplace

Photo: Australian Physiotherapy Association
Clinical, personal and professional differences, along with the perceived security of social media, has lead to an increase in online bullying within the physiotherapy profession.

“As with all bullying, it can be quite complicated,” says Australian Physiotherapy Association member and chair of the APA National Professional Standards Panel, Toni Andary.

“It probably ranges anywhere from the perpetrators own insecurities to the arrogance of knowing you are right and all things in between.

“The ability to surround yourself with like-minded people can create an artificial bubble.

“The ease with which a comment can be made without seeing the instant reaction that would be associated with a face to face conversation can also have an impact.”

While online debate can have a positive impact on the profession, an increase in negative communication and the domination of an online bully can stifle genuine discussion, and eliminate intellectual vigour, says Mr Antary.
“The problem, over time, is the potential erosion of the trust and high status that the physiotherapy profession holds in the wider community,” he says.

“Physios are well respected and seen as trustworthy.

“These type of behaviours drag the whole reputation of the profession down.”

Along with the profession as a whole, online bullying can have significantly more damaging consequences for the individuals involved.

“Anyone who has experienced the adversity of being a target of bullying can definitely experience mental and emotional health issues,” says Psychotherapist Dr Karen Phillip.

“The targeted person can feel ostracised, stressed and isolated, all of which can lead to professional and personal problems.”

While most people think of bullying as behaviour associated with children or adolescents, it’s not generally expected from professional adults, meaning targets can be caught off-guard.

“They are usually shocked and spend considerable time questioning themselves if they have done something to cause this.

“They spend significant time and effort trying to understand the reason for the attack.

“They are often left feeling betrayed, lost, and scared; they can develop self-doubt both personally and professionally.”

While ignoring a bully is usually considered the best advice, at times this can be extremely difficult if your professional name is being slandered.

“Sending a legal letter to cease and desist can often work well if you know who the bully is,” says Dr Phillip. 

“Most of these bullies are cowards who hide behind the shadows of their computer without the courage to confront or challenge another in person.

“Contacting the social media outlet whose platform they are using may also help. If attacks are vicious or defamatory, then contact police who can determine the IP address these malicious posts are coming from before commencing legal action against them.”

Dr Phillip says it’s important for industries to educate members and include a clause in the Ethics section of their regulations denouncing any bullying.

“It should be made clear such behaviour is against the ethics of the profession and any substantiated reports may result in expulsion from the profession.

“If it is a company of workers and there is a bully, counsellors and mediators can work extremely well with staff to determine the reason for this behaviour occurring and set up strategies to stop it.”

Mr Antary agrees, that the industry as a whole, along with individual members, need to take an active role in calling out negative behaviours such as bullying.

“Once we make a collective decision that it is important as a profession to call out inappropriate behaviour then we are starting to get onto the right track,” he says.
 
“The most important thing, in my opinion, is the positive peer pressure that the profession can bring in calling out the bad behaviour.

“We need to show some maturity. We can debate topics and agree to disagree but do it respectfully.”

But Dr Phillip says society in general needs to become more intolerant to bullying in all of its form, to create a flow-on effect to industries and individuals.

“Bullying from an intelligent mature professional is additionally horrendous as it is done with direct intent to cause harm.

“If individuals have differing views, the polite, mature and intelligent behaviour is to listen, thank the person for sharing their opinion before giving an opposing or alternate opinion based on whatever information or fact is applicable.

“Not everyone agrees on everything.

“Accepting the rights of others to hold differing viewpoints is called civilised behaviour.”

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Nicole Madigan

Nicole Madigan is a widely published journalist with more than 15 years experience in the media and communications industries.

Specialising in health, business, property and finance, Nicole writes regularly for numerous high-profile newspapers, magazines and online publications.

Before moving into freelance writing almost a decade ago, Nicole was an on-air reporter with Channel Nine and a newspaper journalist with News Limited.

Nicole is also the Director of content and communications agency Stella Communications (www.stellacomms.com) and a children's author.