How to tackle work-related cyberbullying

Do you know how to address work-related cyberbullying? Some recent Australian research gives employers tips on how they can protect workers from this problematic and complex issue.

Employers can combat the growing phenomenon by training workers to be more optimistic and resilient, as well as training them in email etiquette, the researchers say.

Employers should also introduce a zero-tolerance policy that clarifies what cyberbullying is, the organisation's position on the issue, and consequences and penalties for participating in it.

Cyberbullying is "an intentional act carried out by a group or individual, using electronic form of contact, repeatedly and over time against a victim who cannot easily defend him or herself", the researchers say.

One recent study of 4000 workers in 10 countries found that:

  • 53 per cent of participants felt social media "had eroded privacy within the workplace";
  • 11 per cent said embarrassing photos or videos of them at a work-related social event had been posted online; and
  • nine per cent had experienced aggressive or offensive behaviour online by a colleague.

Cyberbullying negatively affects workers' psychological and physical wellbeing, and their levels of job satisfaction and stress are adversely affected as a result, the researchers say, noting their study of 146 white-collar Australian workers identified a significant link between cyberbullying and stress.

"It is highly beneficial for organisations and employers to set up training programs that can detect and manage stress by increasing the awareness and an individual's ability to cope with stressful situations," they say.

"This approach will improve the adaptability of the individual to stressful environments whilst at the same time reduce the severity of symptoms before they lead to serious psychological injury.

"Finally, it is important for employers to provide staff training in professional etiquette and the appropriate use of email or other communication tools within the workplace."

(The full OHS Alert article has been unlocked for non-subscribers. Read it here.)

How costly is bullying?

The median direct cost of a bullying-related workers' comp claim is nearly $20,000 higher than the all-claims average, according to Safe Work Australia's second annual statement on the issue.

Its first statement, released in June last year, found that while the mental stress claims rate had fallen since 2001-02, the claims rate for the subcategory of harassment and bullying was increasing.

The second annual statement confirms this trend, and also shows the frequency rate of harassment or bullying-related claims made by women in the three years to June 2013 - nearly 25 claims per 100 million hours worked - was three times higher than the male claims rate.

Mental stress claims resulting from work pressure were Australia's most costly workers' comp claims in 2011-12, with an average 10.6 working weeks lost per claim (compared to 0.6 weeks for all accepted workers' comp claims) and a median direct cost of $23,000 (compared to the all-claims median direct cost of $1400), the statement says.

The median direct cost of work-related harassment (excluding sexual or racial harassment) or bullying claims was $20,900, with about 9.2 working weeks lost per claim.

(OHS Alert subscribers can read the full story here, or you can start a trial subscription to gain access.)

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