Putting the spotlight on workplace cyberbullying
Women facing cyberbullying

When cyberbullying incidents afford us the opportunity to update policies and create positive change

By Rianette Leibowitz, cyber wellness and safety author and speaker, Brand South Africa Play Your Part Ambassador and founder of SaveTNet Cyber Safety.

I hope this article makes you feel uncomfortable and motivates you to create the needed changes to move forward in a more positive way – whether you need to make personal adjustments or step up for someone else who needs your help. When you realise you have influence there where you are and in the position you have, regardless of your title, you could be the catalyst for a better work-life experience.

Imagine working in an environment where you can be yourself and enjoy delivering your best service without having to worry about someone who is making life difficult for you.  A place where your colleagues respect each other and cheer each other on.

Unfortunately, instead of a healthy and uplifting working environment, many people start their workday feeling concerned and anxious about the next incident and how it will impact them emotionally and their level of productivity.

Children who deal with bullying on the playground look forward to the day they leave school so that they can be free from it. A day when everyone has become mature and understands that we can work together without making life difficult for each other.  Unfortunately, the harsh reality is that not everyone reaches that level of maturity and continues their destructive behaviour.

We have also entered a new dimension of the workplace and digital connectivity has created a long list of positive enhancements, however, it also leaves the door open for cyberbullying.

What is cyberbullying?

Company policies should protect us from harassment and have clear guidelines regarding the procedure to follow to report and manage it. However, when it comes to online harassment and the harsh treatment people endure through emails, WhatsApp groups, social media and direct messaging, many companies are not as clear and supportive as we need them to be.   

When the internet and digital devices are used continuously to share images, messages, videos, comparisons or private information about a person with the intent to harm or embarrass that person, we refer to it as cyberbullying. It also includes instances when rumours or information is shared about a person with the aim to create hatred or false impressions about that person.

Cyberbullying happens when an embarrassing or defamatory video goes viral and then the bullying continues with the involvement of more people. Of course, it is basically impossible to stop the material being shared or to delete it from all the places in which it was shared.

Let’s keep in mind that children are affected by cyberbullying and that your support could save your child’s life.

What is the risk in terms of the company you represent?

Our actions have a direct impact on the company and brand we represent – whether it is reckless driving, poor customer service, late payments or what employees share online.  

In terms of cyberbullying and online harassment, it could have a long-lasting and much worse impact on the people involved and the company as a brand.

Nasty comments, threats and irritating behaviour doesn’t stop at the office, because digital messages are shared and screenshots can be taken and kept on multiple devices and platforms.

It’s therefore in your best interest to think twice before you share your thoughts online or send that harsh WhatsApp message or even reply rudely via email.

When bullying incidents afford us the opportunity to update policies and create positive change

Does your company have a social media and online policy? Do you know what it entails and what is expected from you? What could get you in trouble or, even worse, what could get you fired?

If you don’t have clarity, then it is time to address this with the Human Resources department, your management or to take initiative to get this implemented.

You might have seen and agreed on related policies years ago and with your influence, these outdated policies could be updated and communicated internally.

If you recognise any of the following behaviour in yourself, or if you notice it happening to someone else, then it is important to take action?

  • Are you sharing remarks with a slight hint of sarcasm or breaking someone down in private and/or in the presence of others?
  • Are you frightening someone and thinking it is funny, even if they have asked you numerous times to stop doing it?
  • Do you experience emotional bullying by someone in an authoritative position?
  • Do you receive rude email messages that undermine your work and best efforts, making you feel concerned about your job security and impacting your level of confidence in a negative way?
  • Do you notice someone being treated differently during your online meetings and being demeaned?
  • Is there someone at the office who continues to step over the boundaries as stipulated by company policies, however you are too afraid to speak up?
  • Are the messages you share (verbally and otherwise) uplifting, fair and in line with the company culture, or should you adjust your tone and intention?
  • Is your opinion ignored on a constant basis and your ideas disregarded without further discussion?
  • Do you receive phone calls in which you are spoken to in a disrespectful way, asked inappropriate questions or instructed to perform work within unrealistic deadlines?
  • Are you part of a WhatsApp or messaging group where someone is being discussed, made fun of, called names or rumours are impacting your view negatively about that person?

It’s never too late to stand up for someone, to request help or to suggest an idea to ensure a better work environment for everyone. By being introspective and having open dialogues within your teams, it could be possible to stop bullying and cyberbullying, ensuring that a positive team culture drives uplifting behaviour.

To learn more about cyberbullying and other risks associated with the internet and social media, contact me at hi@rianette.com.

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