An always-on approach to working, facilitated by smartphone technology, has meant the line between our working lives and our personal lives has become increasingly blurred.

Many organisations utilise the convenience of messaging apps such as WhatsApp as a new means of internal communications, for team building (organising social events for example) or project working, as well as for keeping in touch with remote colleagues or those on maternity/paternity leave. Indeed, even the traditional staff intranet has been replaced by applications that mirror social media platforms and that are accessible from anywhere, at any time.

There is also an eagerness among marketing and management departments for colleagues to follow, like, share and engage with company social media accounts as a means of disseminating information and supporting the organisation’s brand profile.

The result: we are constantly present and contactable.

Toxic behaviour in the digital world

While there are benefits to be gained from the increased lines of communication offered by the digital world, there are also dangers. Toxic workplace behaviour – that is, bullying, harassment and discrimination – is no longer limited to the office floor; it penetrates home lives through our smartphones.

The rise of cyberbullying among young people has been well-documented. In their 2017 annual bullying survey of over 10,000 school and college students aged 12 to 20, anti-bullying charity Ditch the Label highlighted 17% of those bullied (54%) had experienced online abuse. While 69% of all survey respondents admitted to having done something abusive to another person online.

The report also revealed that online bullying has an offline impact on victims with 41% of those experiencing cyberbullying having social anxiety as a result and 37% suffering from depression.

Discussions surrounding online behaviour impacting adults in the workplace, however, seem to be lacking.

What constitutes toxic behaviour online?

Technology means that workplace harassment, bullying and discrimination no longer have to be carried out in person, nor in fact in the same building or even the same country.

Toxic behaviour can appear as

  • inappropriate or sexualised messages/emails
  • sending explicit or discriminatory images or videos
  • the creation or sharing of explicit images or videos featuring a colleague
  • emailing viruses or forwarding emails containing viruses
  • hostile or humiliating comments
  • posting rumours
  • excluding a colleague from a group
  • impersonating a colleague online or creating fake profiles
  • hate-campaigns/groups, stalking and trolling

Tackling online harassment, discrimination and bullying

As an employer, you have a duty of care to protect your employees from bullying, harassment and discrimination – outside of working hours and outside the workplace. It is therefore essential that you have effective processes, policies and training programmes in place that prevent and tackle toxic behaviour online, as much as offline.

Employers also have the opportunity to harness the power of technology for good. There has been an emergence of online reporting platforms, chat facilities and applications designed to support victims of harassment, discrimination and bullying, as well as increase the efficiency of evidence gathering for employers to act upon.

The platforms enable victims to make an anonymous report thereby overcoming the fear of speaking out. Indeed, the chat facility on the Tell Jane website offers employees exactly that and is manned by experienced HR practitioners.

However, these online tools should be implemented to support your overall strategy in ridding and protecting your workplace from toxic behaviour. They are not a quick fix nor a sticking plaster. It is your company culture – how it is cultivated, communicated and championed from the top down – that determines your success in protecting your people from online (and offline) bullying, harassment and discrimination.

To find out more about preventing online harassment, bullying and discrimination in your workplace or to find out more about our channels for anonymous reporting, email me directly (keep it clean, please!) –


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