With the growth of remote work, an area of concern for business leaders is the rise of cyberbullying. Bullying in the workplace is not an unusual circumstance, but the Internet and electronic communications have made it easier for cyberbullies to breach their victims’ lives, leaving them feeling worried, vulnerable, and isolated in off-site locations. Remote work has also allowed for more offenders to keep away from the watchful eyes of supervisors in physical environments.
As remote work continues to increase and electronic communication methods such as videoconferencing play a central role in business operations, leaders should take proactive steps to curtail cyberbullying. Some suggestions for leaders to consider include:
Review Videoconferencing Etiquette
Videoconferencing will continue to rank as the preferred communication method for businesses to connect with remote workforces. However, videoconferencing has also become a predominantly used platform for cyberbullying and warrants deep examination and evaluation for best practices. With interactions through videoconferencing services, employers are able to review transcripts and videos of recorded meetings to get a glimpse of activities and/or use if issues arise.
Employers can also review existing preapproved guidelines before meetings, remind participants about the effect facial expressions can have on the group, maintain an awareness that lenient environments might encourage relaxed behavior that can innocently lead to offenses, designate mystery participants to periodically join group meetings for evaluation purposes, and limit or prohibit virtual social gatherings that include alcohol if there is a history of team members overindulging and displaying bad behavior.
Be Sensitive to the Signs
The warning signs of cyberbullying may not be easily recognized by managers, employees, and witnesses until the situation escalates to a serious level. Team members should be on the lookout for threatening e-mails that use patronizing language, as well as those who copy management on e-mails when someone’s mistakes are being pointed out, humiliate employees on social media platforms seen by large groups of coworkers, send intimidating text messages on personal phones that employers cannot track, and take credit for others’ work during videoconferencing calls. If warning signs are seen earlier, there might be a chance to reconcile situations in the early stages before they become major issues.
Inform and Equip Employees
Recognizing and preventing cyberbullying in the workplace begins with education and training. When employees can identify the signs of cyberbullying, either from a third party or the victim’s perspective, they will be better equipped to take the appropriate steps to report it. Training on cyberbullying can be seamlessly incorporated into an annual antiharassment course. Employers should also consider creating one-sheet flyers with bullet points of warning signs that can be included in new employee onboarding packets and periodically given during the year to demonstrate a zero-tolerance policy toward cyberbullying and unwelcomed behavior. If incidents are reported sooner, it can result in resolutions and improve all employees’ working conditions.
Forge Employee Safety
An employer has a moral obligation to make employees feel safe in their work environment—in the office or remote—so they are free from distractions and able to focus on their jobs. Therefore, to facilitate employees’ safety, business leaders should offer a confidential reporting system through a third-party vendor for incidents, for example. Victims may sometimes feel embarrassed that they allowed themselves to be cyberbullied, and/or the offender is in an executive or a managerial role, so they are hesitant to come forward to report the abuse.
When notified, employers should take immediate action to investigate the situation in a sensitive and fair manner that demonstrates their commitment to taking claims seriously and making employees feel safe. By conducting regular check-ins and offering an employee assistance program (EAP), leaders can help victims cope. The workplace will become a safer environment when business leaders take the necessary steps to rein in cyberbullying to support highly engaged employees and help them reach their full potential.
Jessica Larson is a senior HR specialist with Insperity, a leading national provider of HR and business performance solutions. For more information about Insperity, visit www.insperity.com.