Bullies at Work

Nearly every day, there’s another news story about adolescents being bullied by their peers (and sometimes adults), inside or outside of school, as well as on the social networks. Surprisingly, there are few stories about workplace bullying, even though 37% of American workers (54 million people)report being bullied at work. While workplace bullying has gone on since the beginning of time, today’s workers face a whole new kind of bullying as the Internet empowers anonymous communication, making it harder for victims to identify from where attacks are coming. However, it’s not just anonymous communication; workers are also using social media to amplify harassment, whether it’s slandering a coworker on Facebook or using Twitter to express displeasure with management over policies and workplace decisions.

For many people, hiding behind a computer screen gives them the fearlessness to act in ways they might not do in the real world. The bottom line? Workplace bullying can threaten a victim’s earnings, employment, reputation and safety.

 How can companies protect employees and their corporate reputation?

Communicate the company’s code of conduct. Employees should embody company values both on and offline. Post your company’scode of conducton the corporate website, in the employee handbook and in common areas so employees understand the shared commitment to operate ethically and with integrity.

Put a social media policy in place. According tothis survey, less than 29 percent of companies in the Americas have aformal policyfor employee use of external social networking sites. Providing guidelines for participating on social networks including interactive forums, blogs, wikis, chat rooms, podcasts, video posts and the like can ensure employees engage in social media in the right way.

Monitor employee e-mail and social sites. E-mail’s ease-of-use and informal nature may make it easier for employees to lose some inhibitions and engage in less than stellar behavior, whether that is making derogatory statements about a co-worker, circulating inappropriate jokes or pictures, or even making overt or implied threats. Most employers use some form of e-mail monitoring and employees should understand that all electronic transmissions – even personal webmail accounts that are accessed via the company server – might be reviewed. Proactively monitoring e-mail and social media sites helps companies ensure that what emanates from their domain maintains a professional image. It also helps prevent and discourage employees from harassing or being harassed by their peers.

Promote personal privacy. Encourage employees to protect personal information online such as their address, Social Security number, passwords, etc. Just as companies should monitor social media sites and employee e-mail, employees should be encouraged to set a personal Google alert to monitor their online identity and what is being said about them. In 2007, a prominent Internet blogger discovered a false account of her career was posted online, along with her address and Social Security number, following threatening blog posts and e-mails, including death threats. Only by being aware of what is being said and where, can employees truly safeguard their personal and professional reputation.

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