The circle of work harassment continues to get wider each day – cyber-bullying is making its way into organizations and not everyone is prepared to handle it.

Not too long ago, harassment cases that Human Resources or managers dealt with were verbal or physical harassment that occurred during working hours and on work premises. After a while, location became less of a factor and harassment cases included employees dealing with vendors or suppliers offsite or other company sponsored events.

Today the scope of harassment broadens as the world becomes more global and technology pushes our reach to…cyberspace.

That’s right, cyber-bullying falls under the workplace harassment umbrella and it has major implications for employers and employees.

Cyber-bullying involves the use of information and communication technologies to support deliberate, repeated, and hostile behavior by an individual or group, that is intended to harm others.” –Bill Belsey

Isn’t cyber-bullying limited to children?

Unfortunately no. Once thought limited to children, the same type of behavior is found in adult communication and may be called cyber-stalking or cyber-harassment.

Where do you find cyber-bullying?

Examples of information and communications technologies include e-mail, discussion forums, chat rooms, instant messaging, text messaging, webpages, blogs and other social media venues.

What is cyber-bullying?

A rule of thumb, if the behavior threatens the person’s earnings, employment, reputation or safety, cyber-bullying needs to be addressed.

How do employees limit their risk?

In an ideal world, I would just tell you to be a responsible adult; however, sometimes anger gets the best of us. Before you know it you may have done something stupid to someone else or your company. Let’s be clear, these are actions you should not do:

  • Send threatening e-mails or messages
  • Orchestrate a campaign to bombard your target with unwanted e-mails or messages
  • Engage or encourage others to make negative comments in a public forum or chat room
  • Leave negative or abusive comments on blogs
  • Impersonating the person or company to set them up for negative feedback
  • Setting up a blog or post to defame someone or the company

When in doubt, don’t do it. Figure out a different way to let off your steam in private.

If you are a victim of cyber-bullying, gather your facts and evidence and contact your Human Resources department or the company CEO.

How do employers limit their risk?

Fundamentally, cyber-bullying is an extension of a company’s culture. How companies handle their company reputation and how employees act with one another does extend the normal work day.

Employers basically have two choices. Try to mitigate the risk or react to the threat.

When employers choose to react to the threat, they play the waiting game, hoping that something doesn’t happen. Sometimes the size of the organization gives the employer a sense of control – after all we are a family, what could go wrong?

If you think about it, those are the situations where things can become more volatile because you know each other better and frankly, you know what buttons to push.

Employers who try to mitigate risk have two approaches. The first is to over control the situation by setting rules that prevent employees from engaging in social media or other cyberspace communications. This often backfires because employees feel their personal rights are being violated. For example, I have heard instances of companies telling their employees not to use LinkedIn or Facebook.

The second approach is to be proactive about social media and cyber space communications with your employees. Companies pioneering this approach encourage employees to tweet, Facebook or write comments on blogs that promote the company’s image – with guidance.

Develop a program that teaches employees the – who, what, how, when and why of social media practices. Train every employee on the principles and embed it into your marketing strategy.

When employees feel trusted and engaged, the majority step up and the bad apples will become glaringly clear. That’s when companies step in to deal with the problem and employees know it’s a great place to work.