Many years ago, in a galaxy far, far away, the lines between work life and personal life were very clear cut. Since then, however, a few things have changed – and the new landscape we find ourselves in is putting an astronomical amount of pressure on some employers to ensure they’re not caught out.
We’re talking about workplace bullying, but with a very uncomfortable twist.
Back in the good old days you woke up in the morning, packed your lunch in a brown paper bag and headed off to work to begin the day. When you stepped through the office door, you were on work time. At the end of your shift, you stepped out through the door and back into your private time.
If there was any harassment or workplace abuse happening between colleagues, as an employer you would generally know about it. Social media and digital communication is changing all that.
Cyber bullying is fast becoming a very serious problem. According to Bully Zero Australia, it’s just as rampant in some sectors as bullying that happens physically in the workplace.
This is the new HR challenge for managers, team leaders and executives across the country. It’s up to them to put the foot down and stamp cyber bullying out of their companies for good.
This is entirely possible if you follow some simple and powerful steps. But to hunt something down and eliminate it, you first need to know your enemy.
What is cyber bullying?
While the term ‘cyber’ is about as outdated as a dial-up connection and Windows 95, bullying in the workplace has been around a while.
Generally speaking, workplace bullying is any behaviour that offends, degrades or threatens and is aimed at a colleague at work. This can range from direct verbal and physical abuse, through to more indirect actions like inappropriate discussions behind someone’s back or purposely making their life hard at work with scheduling or withholding resources.
With digital devices now in everyone’s hand and being used around the clock, these situations are harder to stop. It’s now completely normal to add a colleague on Facebook, Linkedin or Twitter, and connect with them regularly outside of working hours.
To make matters worse, online harassment often has a larger impact on staff than anything that happens in person or over email in the workplace.
Alex Merton-McCann from Intel Security says one of the biggest issues is it’s visibility to anyone online.
“Say it happens on your Facebook profile,” she says. “Followers from both sides can see what’s going on. Some experts believe it can be even more traumatic because it’s harder to escape.”
The nature of social media also cultivates a group or pack mentality with bullying – which can damage self-esteem exponentially faster than someone on their own being malicious.
Cyber bullying never sleeps
One major issue for employers is knowing where their jurisdiction starts and finishes – in other words, knowing when it is their responsibility, and when it isn’t.
A group of staff members can be posting memes or other hurtful content on Facebook at 11:30pm while lying awake in bed. If it’s about another team member, it’s bullying.
Whether or not malicious work-related behaviour by staff is a legal problem for employers is yet to be confirmed. Plenty of instances have been investigated by The Fair Work Commission but there’s no definitive answer yet.
As outlined in the Fair Work Act of 2009, however, employers have a responsibility to legally provide their staff with a safe, healthy and welcoming place to work.
So whether it’s happening in person, in the workplace, out of the workplace, over email or over social media platforms, if it’s happening between colleagues – it’s your the employer’s responsibility.
If you’re a manager or a team leader, therefore, you need to get on top of it before it gets on top of you.
How employers can stamp out cyber bullying
With cyber bullying becoming such a problem, what actual steps can you take as an employer to curb its influence and ensure you’re creating a positive place to work?
Here are the three best ways for employers to give cyber bullying the kick:
Promote your business as a positive workplace
Even in the first conversation you have with new staff members, share your company’s dedication to a positive working culture. Start in your primary screening sessions and interviews, and reiterate it when they begin. Of course, make sure it’s crystal clear that bullying extends to social media and anything after hours.
Include bullying in your Work Health & Safety inductions
As an employer, you have a legal obligation to ensure your workers are inducted before they start the job. This is critical for workplace bullying as well as issues like safety and food handling. Online inductions are a great way to deliver this for their consistency and ease of use.
Have a strict policy in place for cyber-bullying
Every company should have a comprehensive policy that covers harassment, discrimination, and bullying in the workplace. This needs to include cyber-bullying. That doesn’t necessarily mean restricting devices at work – but there needs to be a document to ensure everyone is onboard with a zero-bullying policy.
Cyber bullying can impact your business and culture as well as people’s day-to-day lives. It should be taken just as seriously as any other form that occurs at work.
Thankfully, with the right systems in place, you can stamp it out and ensure your workplace is one that everyone can feel safe being a part of – even after they go home at night.
For more information about workplace bullying for employers, download WorkPro’s FREE Workplace Bullying ebook.