"Evidence is mounting that cyberbullying in the workplace is becoming as common as face to face bullying, and needs to be addressed by employers," says WSPS Consultant Andrew Moffett.
Cyberbullies in the workplace use emails, texts, social media, video conference and other electronic means to do their dirty work. "Like traditional workplace bullying, cyberbullying involves a pattern of repeated behaviours towards a person with the intent to inflict harm," says Andrew. "It can range from verbal and emotional abuse to mockery, humiliation, implied threats, retaliation, social exclusion and much more."
Workplace bullying can affect an employee's wellbeing and mental health and may lead to depression, fear, anxiety, anger, feelings of helplessness, and loss of sleep which all contribute to negative health effects. With cyberbullying, there can be even greater harm because employees are vulnerable 24/7, which may impact productivity, absenteeism, morale, and turnover.
Here are four ways employers can protect their employees and prevent cyberbullying.
- Promote a culture of respect. "Workplaces that promote tolerance, fairness, respect, and empathy are less likely to experience bullying, abuse and harassment, says Andrew.
- Include cyberbullying in your existing violence and harassment policy and communicate it widely. Use team meetings and safety talks to reiterate the messages about bullying and cyberbullying in the workplace. Encourage workers who witness it, to report it.
In your policy:
- define what cyberbullying is and what it looks like
- outline what is and isn’t acceptable to say when communicating online, with examples.
- discuss the consequences of cyberbullying, including posting malicious gossip on the internet
- provide step by step instructions for employees to report bullying and cyberbullying
- describe procedures for investigating and remedying complaints
- explain what supports are available for workers who have been bullied (for example, Employee and Family Assistance Programs (EFAPs))
- Provide training for managers and supervisors. Supervisors require training on all aspects of the workplace's violence and harassment policy, including those related to cyberbullying. They need to understand your workplace's legal responsibilities, the impact of bullying on employees and on the workplace, how to identify someone who is being bullied or cyberbullied, and how to respond to complaints and provide support.
Remember, sometimes the perpetrator of the bullying is the supervisor. Help prevent this by providing training that develops communication, empathy and sensitivity skills. "Bullying by supervisors is especially unacceptable because of the power imbalance with employees," says Andrew. "Employers should hold all employees to the same standards and apply the same consequences." Ensure everyone has a safe person to speak to if their bully is a superior.
- Empower employees. Tell them what they should do and not do if they are targeted by workplace cyberbullies. For example:
- don’t respond to the bully in anger
- make a complaint using the process outlined in your violence and harassment policy
- take screen shots of offending posts, email, or texts to support the complaint
- if the cyberbullying occurs on a social media platform, report it to the site
- if there is a threat to your physical safety at work, report it immediately
- illustrate an employer’s commitment to protect workers from workplace violence and harassment. This includes cyberbullying.
- outline all potential sources of workplace violence (e.g., colleagues, clients, the public)
- state the roles and responsibilities of everyone in the workplace that support the policy and program
- be signed and dated by the highest level of management for the organization
- be in writing and posted in a highly visible spot in the workplace.
How WSPS can help
All workplaces are legally required to have a Violence and Harassment Policy and Procedure. Connect with a WSPS Safety Consultant for help in developing and implementing your policy and procedure. WSPS can also assist employers with completing these other legislated employer requirements:
- Workplace Violence Risk Assessment
- Workplace Violence & Harassment Prevention Program Development;
- Bullying in the Workplace (1 hour, e-Course)
- Respect in the Workplace (90 minute, eCourse)
- Workplace Violence and Harassment: Situational Awareness and De-escalation (3 hour, classroom)
- Workplace Violence & Harassment Awareness (40 minute, eCourse)