Fixer: New tech is encouraging bullying

28 Mar 2019 By PM Editorial

How can we keep tabs on employees' use of messaging platforms?

We are an educational software company, which is naturally very tech savvy. Almost all of our teams use Slack, but many also have WhatsApp groups and I don’t feel we’re on top of the situation. In one group, there are a lot of risqué comments and jokes. In other teams, I’ve heard there is bullying or unpleasant material being shared. Some people are using work phones, others their own phones. Where does the company stand if things go wrong and what can I do to manage it?

There’s nothing inherently wrong with this type of technology. Many of my clients are actively embracing it, and in a previous HR role I saw Yammer as a positive way of communicating with employees, particularly when board members used it to start conversations.

But I’m also seeing clients grappling with exactly the sort of issues you describe, because the context of how you introduce any software like this into the business is vital. People will follow the behaviours they see around them, and if others are treating Slack, Teams, Yammer or any other tool as a free-for-all, their colleagues will follow suit.

On internal social networks, you need people who can act as moderators and jump in to remove unsuitable material and caution employees who cross the line. Ideally they will be positive, enthusiastic everyday users who can set an example to others, rather than your HR colleagues, and they may be able to give masterclasses and set guidelines to create the right sort of culture.

But this system should also be backed by a robust policy, covering WhatsApp and social media, leaving employees in no doubt about their responsibilities. Because you are right to be worried about what you are seeing at the moment. I know people take screenshots when they see something that involved bullying or harassment, which could come back to haunt you. 

If WhatsApp is involved, you’re also into the area of vicarious liability because a group involves workmates is an extension of the workplace, even if they are using their own devices. Work with your IT department to understand the problem, and if in doubt seek legal advice too.

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