Social Media Bullying

Just like in the school yard, bullying can also have a detrimental effect on employees’ mental health in the workplace. Also, just like the school yard, the rise of social media has exacerbated and changed the way we deal with and treat bullying in the workplace.

SafeWork Australia defines bullying as follows:

Repeated and unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker or a group of workers that creates a risk to health and safety.’

Examples provided in WHS Instruction No 21 include:

‘abuse via telephone, email, instant messaging or using mobile phone or social media technologies’

A Techmark Study of Smartphone Usage undertaken in 2014 found that the average smartphone user will check their phone 221 times a day, and spend an average of 3 hours and 16 minutes on their phone daily.

For most people, checking their phone (including social media platforms) is the first thing they do in the morning, and the last thing they do at night. Every. Day.

Social media and technology generally, have had a huge impact on the way we live our lives, and this, of course, includes our work life. This leads to the question, where does our work life end, and our home or private life begin?

The answer to this is that in reality – it often doesn’t.

Many of us are connected to our work in some way, shape or form 24 hours a day 7 days a week. We check our emails on our work phones at all hours of the day. We answer texts from our colleagues outside of hours, many of us even take work home or remotely connect to the office at nights or on the weekend.

While this can cause issues in a variety of areas, the obvious one for the present purpose is that it means bullying can occur outside of work hours too, and still be connected to the workplace.

As an employer or a ‘person conducting a business or undertaking’, you have an obligation under the Work Health Safety Act 2012 (SA) to ensure, so far as reasonably practicable, the health and safety of your employees. This includes eliminating the risk of bullying in the workplace.

But where does this duty end for employers? When the employee turns off their computer for the day or punches out? When they leave the workplace? When they log into their computer from home or check their emails on their phone?

While of course an employer cannot be expected to supervise the movements of employees outside of work hours, how can they control or ‘eliminate the risk’ of bullying occurring outside of hours, particularly when technology has blurred the line between what is ‘work’ and what is not?

One way to impose boundaries is to implement and enforce a social media policy that outlines your expectations for employees. Including a clear set of expectations of what is, and is not acceptable behaviour. If this policy is not adhered to, and you become aware of an issue or complaint, deal with it as it arises. Even if you are not sure whether or not it constitutes workplace bullying, address it with the employees involved and find out. Monitor the situation and if issues do not resolve – intervene and take further necessary action.

The concept of ‘24/7 connectivity’ has changed the way we think about our jobs, and necessarily, the way we think about and deal with social media and workplace bullying as well.

If you’d like to have a chat about how to effectively outline a social media policy for your employees, get in touch with one of our experienced and professional team at insyncHR for your FREE consultation. We can offer information, assistance and support on how to best protect your workplace from bullying claims, in and out of the office environment.