You might associate cyberbullying with children and teens … but it happens in the workplace too.
While cyberbullying is a more pressing issue in 2020, with so many employees working remotely, it’s been on the rise for some time. A report back in 2012 found that 80% of employees had experienced some form of cyberbullying in the past 6 months. As many as 20% experienced cyberbullying on a weekly basis.
Cyberbullying can be hugely damaging to employees’ well-being. It can be especially harmful to individuals who’ve experienced childhood bullying.
As a leader, it’s in your interest to make sure it’s not happening, too. Cyberbullying may lead excellent employees to quit, and even if it doesn’t come to that, it can have a seriously damaging effect on team communication and cohesion.
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What Does Cyberbullying Look Like in the Workplace?
When you think of cyberbullying, you might think of nasty gossip being spread on social media. But in the workplace, cyberbullying can take many forms.
It might mean:
Ignoring or ostracising someone. This might mean deliberately “forgetting” to invite someone to a meeting, or deliberately withholding information that they need to do their job. Or, it could involve leaving someone out of social events or ignoring their emails.
Spreading rumors or gossip. This could be through private chats, through sharing screenshots or photos, or through creating an “us and them” atmosphere.
Sexual harassment, such as inappropriate messages. Keep in mind that cyberbullying won’t necessarily be as blatant as sending an explicit text or indecent photo. It might involve something more like unwanted flirtatious remarks.
Using derogatory terms about someone. For instance, referring to a colleague by a racial slur in a private chat is a form of cyberbullying, even if that chat doesn’t include the colleague who’s being talked about.
Micromanagement or excessive demands. While you might not think of this as a form of cyberbullying, some employers’ measures to monitor productivity can seem punitive. This might include things like berating a team member for taking 15 minutes to respond to an email or keeping team members under constant surveillance via webcam.
Deliberately disrupting someone’s ability to do their work. This could cover a huge range of behaviors, such as muting them so they can’t speak on a Zoom call, ignoring their messages in Slack, telling them the wrong time for a meeting, or signing them up for lots of spam emails so their inbox is bombarded.
What Can Team Leaders Do?
As a team leader, you may not want to jump in at every possible sign that two colleagues aren’t getting along. Plus, cyberbullying isn’t likely to happen in the open – you probably won’t see it taking place in your Slack channels, for instance.
Here are some things you can do to create a workplace culture that helps prevent cyberbullying:
Set Clear Guidelines About Interacting With Colleagues
You should have a policy that sets out your expectations for communication with colleagues. This should clearly state that abusive or bullying behavior will not be tolerated.
You may want to provide examples of appropriate feedback and how to address problems without being unkind.
Provide Information or Training About Cyberbullying
Something that seems like a “joke” or “banter” to one person may come across as deeply hurtful or offensive to another.
By providing information or training about cyberbullying, you can ensure that all employees are aware of what it is and what to do if they’re on the receiving end.
Make it Easy to Report Online Abuse
If someone receives an inappropriate Slack message, email, or text, do they know who to report it to and how?
Have a clear policy that explains what employees should do if they’re sent an inappropriate message, or if they’re being bullied in some way.
Have a Social Media Policy That Covers Communications Outside Work
Cyberbullying doesn’t only happen through your company’s systems. It can take place outside work on social media, through text messages, or even through personal emails.
You may think that you can’t do anything if one employee attacks another on Twitter or Facebook, outside of work hours. But you can and should have a social media policy that covers appropriate communication outside of work.
Cyberbullying can be hugely harmful to employees, and if widespread in your organization, it can create a destructive culture. As a team leader, it’s your responsibility to prevent cyberbullying – and to respond quickly if you notice inappropriate messages or bullying behavior from your employees.
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