Identifying and Standing Up to Cyberbullying in the Workplace

Identifying and Standing Up to Cyberbullying in the Workplace

In our recent back-to-school post, we learned that much of what we teach students about cybersecurity applies to professional environments as well. Yet while training employees to recognize phishing schemes and email fraud are one thing, you should also focus on an even more insidious threat to your workers — cyberbullying among employees. 

Let’s identify what cyberbullying is and how it affects businesses before discussing methods for how you can create a healthy, safe workplace for your employees.

What is cyberbullying?

Stopbullying.gov defines cyberbullying as bullying that takes place over digital devices like cell phones, computers or tablets. This broad definition includes apps, texting, chat forums, gaming and social media. The bullying itself can take many forms, but all forms seek to shame, embarrass or humiliate another.

Until recently, cyberbullying lacked a definition outside of the scope of youth culture. As the electronic counterpart to workplace bullying, cyberbullying is more complex and insidious because it’s less apparent. In a professional environment cyberbullying can take the form of harassment, cyberstalking, denigration or exclusion among other things, as modern technology makes it much easier to inflict widespread, lasting damage.

Does cyberbullying really happen in the workplace? 

For sure, and the consequences are dire. Shaming on a public social network could jeopardize someone’s career or force employees to leave their place of work.  

According to the Workplace Bullying Institute’s 2014 U.S. survey, 6.5 million workers said they were affected by bullying in the workplace. Of those, 61% of employees said their employer failed to react to abusive content and that the bullying didn’t stop until they either quit, were forced out of their company or were fired.

Of course, bullying can cost someone more than their job. The emotional distress that occurs when a worker is bullied affects their job performance and sometimes often entails greater social and mental stress on a person.

How to approach prevention

Currently, 25 states have laws against cyberbullying and three have proposed legislation that would make it illegal. Regardless of where you live, the first step you should take as an organization to stand up to bullying is to create a defined HR policy on the issue. Without a clear policy in place, employees may feel forced to confront cyberbullying on their own.

To support your employees, take these steps to identify and prevent cyberbullying in your workplace:

  1. Begin by clearly communicating what cyberbullying might look like in your workplace and take a hard stance forbidding such behavior
  2. Put reporting policies in place to indicate that your company takes cyberbullying seriously. Your policy should also include protocols for dealing with cyberbullying from outside your organization, such as clients of yours.
  3. Create protocols for identifying HR as an employee’s point-of-contact in the event of cyberbullying
  4. Make the necessary changes to your organization and its culture if bullying exists
  5. Train and strengthen individual managers and leaders in your organization to identify and stand up to cyberbullying
  6. Install support services for targets of bullying
  7. Set up accountability measures to coach, counsel and discipline bullies

Being proactive with clear, defined policies is the best way to ensure and protect your employees from cyberbullying. Most importantly, if an employee comes to you with a complaint, take it seriously, listen to them and investigate the situation through the proper channels, quickly and thoroughly. One person can make a difference.

For help reviewing your company’s social media policies or establishing a secure chat system, contact Switchfast for help.

Written by Nik Vargas