Cyberbullying is one of the most potent forms of modern-day harassment, and it isn’t likely to go away any time soon. You can’t truly control your employees’ interactions with others online, but establishing a strict and thorough policy regarding online conduct will help cut down on workplace drama and improve employee wellbeing. Here are a few tips on how you can cultivate a workplace free of malicious online antics.
Defining the Problem
The line between good-natured online joshing and flat-out cyberbullying can be difficult to define and even trickier to enforce. The simplest place to start is your employees’ intent: if the parties giving each other a hard time are both aware that the interaction is nothing more than a good-spirited romp, the content of the interaction is much less important than if the same interaction occurs between a hostile employee and a reluctant one.
Of course, one employee’s intent to banter might invade another employee’s comfort zone, which is why it’s also important to set restrictions on tonal and content persuasions between employees. Your HR department should already have a set of policies outlining things like prohibited topics or humor (e.g., racially motivated jokes) and general guidelines on what qualifies as harassment, so you can probably pull motivation for your cyberbullying policies from there.
You may also want to check your state’s legislature regarding bullying in general, as some states have bullying- or cyberbullying-specific laws which may alter or inform your policy.
Setting the Ground Rules
Once you’ve defined cyberbullying and its limitations in the workplace, you’ll need to establish a set of clearly defined rules for employee interactions. There’s no one way to do this, and your company’s work culture will certainly inform some of the rules you set. If you don’t know where to start, the following ideas should help get the ball rolling:
- Set chain-of-command boundaries to prevent disputes over controversial or sensitive workplace topics.
- Limit work discussions to work hours.
- Consider creating a Slack or Skype channel for employees to talk rather than encouraging external methods of communication.
- Implement a strict record-keeping policy (e.g., no deleted emails, texts, messages, and so on).
- Think about keeping employee relationships separate from social media.
Social media in particular is an important (and controversial) topic to address early in your employees’ work history. While it’s probably okay for your employees to be friends with each other on Facebook and other common sites, you’ll want to explain that any inappropriate interactions on social media are still grounds for punitive measures. Drive home the point that just because it doesn’t happen at work doesn’t mean that it isn’t cyberbullying—and, by extension, relevant to the workplace.
Reacting to Cyberbullying
As mentioned above, cyberbullying may not look malicious or harmful to the person (or people) on the bullying side. While certain situations may require you to terminate immediately the people involved in cyberbullying, many situations are fixable through counseling and peer mediation. If you’ve established that the victim is comfortable explaining their side of the interaction in the presence of the bully, you can oversee a discussion in order to find an amicable resolution.
As always, your punitive metric should align with your workplace culture. If you have employees who are straying outside of that culture and hurting others in the process, it’s probably time to pull the plug for the individuals involved, both to maintain your workplace culture and to help heal the victim of cyberbullying.
Combating Cyberbullying Side Effects
Invariably, you will have to counsel an employee who has experienced cyberbullying, whether it be at the hands of fellow employees or entirely unrelated circumstances. Your HR department should have proper procedures and a health care professional to deal with the fallout that accompanies cyberbullying, but that doesn’t mean you can’t step in to be supportive as well.
Communicating to the employee that they’re in a safe place and encouraging them to speak freely about their situation should be your first reaction upon finding out about the bullying, but keep in mind that the employee may not want to discuss the incident with or divulge information to you. If so, allow HR and any other involved parties to mediate the problem.
Ultimately, your workplace will see a downswing in cyberbullying if you work hard to establish a zero-tolerance policy for online intimidation or harassment, set a positive example of someone who can relate constructive criticism without being abrasive, and keep your employee relationships from reaching the boiling point in the first place.
Employee relationships are bound to go through rocky periods from time to time. For more information about how you can limit workplace cyberbullying and foster a safe environment for all your employees, call Abacus Payroll at (856) 667-6225 today.
Be in front of HR issues such as bullying and harassment before a toxic work environment froms. Ask your Abacus Payroll specialist for more information on accessing our HR Help Center.