Cyberbullying. It is a term we more commonly associate with school children than adults. Yet adults can and do use the cyber-universe inappropriately, as the exposing of Brett Guerin, ironically head of Victoria Police’s ethical standards unit, has shown.

But when it boils down to it, what is adult cyberbullying and what behaviours do bullies use that could constitute workplace cyberbullying?

Defining cyberbullying

Our starting point is the definition of bullying, which is comprised of the following three key elements according to Australian legislation:

  • there is unreasonable behaviour; and
  • that unreasonable behaviour is repeated over a period of time; and
  • that behaviour creates a risk to health and safety.

For it to be cyberbullying, it requires the use of electronic or digital media (eg. e-mails, text messages or social media sites).

Cyberbullying behaviours

Cyberbullying behaviours can involve the use of electronic or digital media in the following ways:

  • anonymous, fraudulent, aggressive, unwanted messages
  • spreading rumours
  • hacking into email or social networking accounts
  • threats
  • harassment
  • unwanted phone calls
  • malicious and abusive messages.

The impact of cyberbullying

The accessibility of electronic and digital media is an inherent challenge of cyberbullying. Mobile phones and tablets provide instant access to those wishing to engage in behaviour that targets others. An internet post is accessible to an enormous audience (including family and friends) within seconds and reputational damage can occur before the target is aware of it. Public humiliation is instant. For a target, this is further exacerbated by the powerlessness, where an individual has limited or no ability to remove the post.

With cyberbullying, a target cannot simply change jobs to escape the abuse. The Internet has a long memory that can’t be easily deleted.

The user of the negative behaviours receives additional protection when they are able to post with anonymity. This allows the target with few avenues of redress and few consequences for the cyberbully. The cyber-bully feels safe and protected with limited constraints. They are able to continue their attacks.

What do you need to do to prevent cyberbullying in your workplace?

Here are some key starting points for you in your prevention of workplace cyberbullying.

  • Ensure that your policy and procedure incorporates cyberbullying including definition and types of behaviours.
  • Define your expectations for employees who engage in cyberbullying. This may include the expectation that any employee found to be posting bullying type messages will be asked to remove that post, whether on public or personal social media sites.
  • Outline the consequences for breaches of your expectations.

Finally, I ask you how far are you willing to go to help your employees feel safe in the workplace from cyberbullying? Where anonymous posts are made and you are able, would you advocate to that web or social media site on that employees behalf to have that negative post removed?

Employees will remember your commitment to keep them safe. They will trust and respect you more for it. That will provide you with a more successful, positive and happier workplace.