For many people, social media is an integral part of their daily lives. Across the globe, more than 4.2 billion people access some form of social media every day, according to a 2021 study. In the UK, there are more than 53 million people that use social media, which is almost 78% of the total population, as shown by recent figures.
Although social media can often be used as a positive force for change, it can also provide people with a platform to harass or bully others. Whilst a lot of this type of social media interaction takes place outside of work hours, it can still have a massive impact inside the office.
To avoid creating a toxic environment at work, steps should be taken to eliminate bullying in all forms and provide employees with a safe, open, and enjoyable environment in which to work.
This article aims to provide supervisors and workers with the information they need to recognise instances of online workplace bullying. We’ll look at how businesses can educate employees on how social media posts can be considered bullying and show you where to find further training on bullying and harassment in the workplace.
What is Workplace Bullying?
Bullying can be difficult to define since it can take many forms. Bullying can occur in any type of workplace and may be between co-workers or managers and employees. Bullying can be carried out in person, over the phone, in writing or online via social media.
A loose definition of bullying is any repeated behaviour that is offensive, humiliating or intimidating. Bullying is often used to undermine individuals or groups of people in the workplace.
Examples of bullying in the workplace include:
- Withholding crucial information
- Ridiculing or demeaning a person
- Misusing power or position
- Undermining workers with continued criticism
- Unreasonable deadlines or workloads
- Posting threats, malicious rumours, or personal details online
Can a Social Media Post be Considered Bullying?
With the popularity of social media, instances of online bullying, also known as cyberbullying, have been on the increase. People can use social media to make negative comments directly to a person or refer to them negatively in a public or semi-public manner.
Employees often write social media posts to vent their frustrations or to express anger at a situation or a co-worker. Even when names are not used or events are described in a general way, it can be obvious as to who or what the author is referring to.
Bullying behaviour in social media can include comments or posts that are intimidating, cruel, embarrassing or defamatory to co-workers. Spreading rumours or posting personal information without a person’s consent is also a form of online bullying.
What is the Impact of Workplace Bullying?
Whether online or in-person, bullying in the workplace has a detrimental impact on the victim’s mental and physical health and the overall work culture.
Victims of bullying in the workplace suffer a range of problems such as increased stress levels, feelings of panic, higher blood pressure levels, headaches ande loss of sleep and reduced appetite. Workplace bullying can also exacerbate low self-esteem, depression, and anxiety.
Bullied employees find it harder to concentrate and to perform their tasks adequately and often feel resentment against their employers. Some bullying victims are so traumatised they may leave their positions and require ongoing psychological treatment.
Workers who are subjected to bullying via social media often feel greater levels of stress and anxiety than those who are dealing with face-to-face bullying. A victim of social media bullying may not be immediately aware of any negative posts about them and will not know how many other people have seen the abuse.
As well as the personal cost of being bullied at work, there are also financial implications for the business as a whole. A company that does not deal with bullying problems creates a hostile work environment that can reduce workers’ productivity, increase absenteeism and use of sick leave, negatively impact public image, and result in costly legal action from victims.
The Legal Ramifications of Bullying in the Workplace
All employers have a duty of care to their employees and must provide them with a safe working environment. This obligation is primarily covered by the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (HSWA). Whilst bullying is not illegal, harassment is deemed unlawful under the Equality Act 2010.
Instances of social media or online bullying can be prosecuted under the Malicious Communications Act 1998, which makes it an offence to send an indecent or threatening communication to another person.
The Protection from Harassment Act 1977 could also apply in instances where a bullied person regularly receives threats of violence.
As well as the penalties applicable under the above legislation, employees that have been subjected to workplace-related bullying can also instigate legal action against their employers via an employment tribunal.
How Can Companies Prevent Bullying and Harassment?
Since it often occurs outside of work hours, it can be difficult for employers to track and be aware of instances of cyberbullying involving social media. Additionally, many employees may also not consider hurtful posts about a co-worker to be related to the workplace since they have posted them outside of work hours and on their private page.
There are steps that companies can take to combat the use of social media to bully others and to prevent bullying and harassment in general.
Firstly, a business should develop strong and clear guidelines on how it expects employees to conduct themselves in their private lives and whilst online and on social media.
Management should let it be known that they will not tolerate any instances of bullying or harassment related to the workplace. It is useful to implement an ‘open door’ policy so employees can safely report any bullying they experience, whether it has occurred online or in person.
All employees should be required to undertake training courses that outline what constitutes bullying behaviour, how to use social media appropriately regarding work matters, and how to create a safe, positive working environment for all.
Where to Find Bullying and Harassment Training
Everyone has the right to work in an environment free from bullying and harassment. Providing the right training and support is vital to ensuring this happens. It helps to ensure that everyone knows what is not acceptable and how to respond, if they feel abused in any way.
The Human Focus website features a range of accredited, online e-Learning courses designed to enhance health and safety practices at work. Our course on Bullying and Harassment provides a clear understanding of what these are, how to spot them and how to prevent them.