How Should HR Deal with Cyberbullying?

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Technology and an unending stream of social media messages, notifications, and alerts have invaded our personal lives more than ever before – leaving the door wide open for the bullies of yesterday to get off the playground and into the Twittersphere. It’s almost comical to hear of exes who continue to stalk one another on Instagram and we all compare our traditional 9-to-5 careers to the jet setting elite on Snapchat, but have you ever stopped to think how this can impact our work lives? Unfortunately, the reality is the more connected we become, the more insidious bullying, and its close relative harassment, can become.

As HR professionals, we have a duty and responsibility to understand not only how technology and social media can hinder business operations such as lost productivity, but also how it creates an environment of opportunity for employees to fall victim to bullying and harassment.

Become Aware and Observant

This goes beyond monitoring your own company’s social media channels! Before you can hope to identify and rectify potential cyberbullying incidents in your workplace, you must first prepare yourself with an understanding of what kinds of harassment and bullying can transpire in the digital realm. If you’re new to social media, there are numerous resources online to get you the crash course you need to become familiar with popular resources such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter. Live streaming functionality with outlets such as Periscope and Facebook Live create additional areas of opportunity for workplace bullies to exploit.

Knowing how to monitor, identify, and respond swiftly and appropriately to harassment in these mediums is key to building a solid company policy relating expectations for employee interaction with company social media channels as well as harassment policies that are inclusive of online activities, privately or on public channels. There are dozens of masks that the face of cyberbullying can wear, whether it’s an Instagram post poking fun at a specific employee shared with other staff members, a ceaseless spewing of threats on Twitter, or an employee texting explicit content to coworkers.

By becoming familiar both with the platforms themselves and the different forms of harassment and bullying that can occur in these environments, you will add another resource to your HR toolkit in navigating potentially sticky employee relations issues.

It may at first feel overwhelming to think of all the different variations of harassment that can play out on the stage of our smart phones and personal devices; however, employers are responsible to ensure they can provide a workplace free of harassment – a bridge that bullying can often rapidly cross over. Cyberbullying is often also more difficult to detect as it can transpire well out of the watchful eyes of the company HR department. In addition to familiarizing yourself with the different social media channels, consider the following suggestions to build a robust defense to cyberbullying:

  •  Training: For both your HR department and the other staff, it can become quite enlightening to provide trainings on what does and does not constitute harassment. This is also a great opportunity to provide a refresher on company policy relating to bullying and harassment.
  • Demonstrate Appropriate Behavior: Take inventory of your own social media use. Are there potentially offensive postings or messages on your personal channels (which we’re sure you’ve already have on a private setting – right?!) or are you yourself aware of (even if not participating in) derogatory commentary circulating online about other staff members?
  • Respond Adequately to Violations: Multiple court cases have provided substantial monetary awards to bullied employees who proved their arguments that their employer was aware harassment was occurring. Ensuring appropriate discipline occurs for those violating bullying policies demonstrates company efforts to provide workplaces free of harassment.

What’s Next?

So you’ve brought yourself up to speed with the most popular forms of social media and established a solid company policy with no tolerance for bullying and harassment. Think you’re set? Not always. Social media and technology is evolving and morphing into new formats at the speed of light – meaning that as HR professionals, our organizations rely on us to stay just as current with the latest trends and changes in the digital realm as much as in the office space. Stay current with the changing world of social media and digital communications and you’ll continue to be as effective as you are in all your other HR competencies!


This piece originally appeared on the SHRM blog here. Its author, Jillian Caswell, is a Office Staffing Division Manager at Alaska Executive Search, Inc.

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