Tesco Bank and Cirrus in HRZone

How leaders can deal with cyber bullying at work

Dr Simon Hayward from Cirrus writes for HRZone

Recently-published research from Alliance Manchester Business School found that workplace bullying is becoming more prevalent. This research into ‘toxic bosses’ highlighted the negative effects of bullying on employee job satisfaction and wellbeing. For some victims, bullying can lead to mental health problems such as depression and anxiety.

Another factor in the rise of workforce bullying is the increase in cyber bullying. Although this has long been highlighted as a threat to children and young people, in recent years it has also infiltrated working life. Texts, emails, social media and other forms of digital communication can provide easy channels for bullies, often taking place outside of the workplace and beyond normal working hours. One of the biggest problems with cyber bullying is how hidden it can be – a benefit for the bully and an issue for the victim because it’s much less obvious to others than something like verbal abuse in the middle of the office.

Sometimes, leaders are reluctant to acknowledge that bullying is happening in their organisations. Leaders who bully others may lack self-awareness and empathy, and don’t always realise the impact of their behaviour. Many leaders are ill-equipped to deal with bullying when it is brought to their attention. Organisations can address these issues through education, development, and leadership coaching.

Where cyber bullying is concerned, guidelines on the use of email and social media are helpful. However, beyond these guidelines, it’s vital that leaders create a supportive and open working environment with a zero-tolerance approach to bullying. In all forms of communication, including online activity, leaders need to be role models for treating people with respect. And when it comes to calling colleagues out on unacceptable behaviour, it’s important that leaders have the courage and confidence to do this. This is always easier if the overall company culture is fair and positive.

For victims of cyber bullying, the internet can also be a source of support. Elefriends is an online community managed by mental health charity Mind. The Samaritans can be contacted by email as well as over the phone. The Acas site offers advice for both victims and employers, and the police’s eCrime site also provides helpful information and links to a helpline. In addition, social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube all have anti-bullying policies in place and pledge to respond swiftly when alerted to incidences of bullying on their sites.

Victims may not always realise they’re being bullied, so it’s important that leaders can recognise the signs. When bullying is reported, we should take the report seriously. Anti-bullying policies are important, and often very helpful – however, it’s the culture of your workplace and the behaviour of your leaders that can really make a difference.

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