How to Better Manage Workplace Harassment in the Age of Social Media
Having policies in place is a start, but do employees feel safe reporting incidents?
“People here are just like that.”
“Don’t make life difficult. If you can, just try to tolerate it.”
These were some responses from supervisors and HR executives to complaints of workplace harassment1.
Given these replies, it is not surprising when hapless and helpless employees turn to their social media platforms as an avenue to voice their frustrations, bringing disrepute to the organisation.
Social media, and the ability to be anonymous, offers employees an easy way to voice their distress when they perceive their organisation and HR department to be ineffective. Some may resort to complaining on social media if they are afraid of the repercussions of reporting through the proper channels established in their organisation.
When this happens and the post goes viral, organisations will face a communications crisis in trying to counter the public accusations.
Organisations can pre-empt such situations by building up their capability to better manage workplace harassment. Here are some areas employers can review to create a safer, more respectful and conducive workplace:
Does your organisation have an effective workplace harassment policy?
A proper workplace harassment policy is the first step to prevent workplace harassment.
Developing such a policy is not a rocket science and can be done in consultation with employees and the relevant union. The policy should cover a clear zero-tolerance position, a set of values to guide behaviours, examples of harassment, the reporting and investigation procedures, and possible disciplinary action.
With remote and hybrid work arrangements being the norm, it is important to reflect virtual conduct that may constitute harassment in the policy.
Organisations should also consider crafting a social media policy to provide clear guidelines on responsible social media use, informing employees that they could be held liable for any online misconduct2.
Do employees know what constitutes workplace harassment, and are they confident in reporting harassment incidents?
A well-written workplace harassment policy means nothing if employees do not know about it or fully understand the intent of it.
After drawing up the policy, make it visible and easily accessible by employees of all levels. The policy could be uploaded on the intranet or included in the employee handbook.
HR should also raise awareness on what behaviours could be considered inappropriate and the avenues for recourse, including remedies under the Protection from Harassment Act, by communicating with employees periodically through emails, town hall meetings or even incorporating workplace harassment training as part of the onboarding programmes for new hires.
More importantly, organisations should provide the assurance on non-retaliation and that there is sufficient confidentiality so affected individuals and whistle-blowers are confident to seek help from management, who might otherwise prefer the cloak of anonymity offered online.
Are supervisors, line managers and HR executives well-trained to enforce the policy?
Employees’ level of confidence in reporting harassment incidents is also dependent on how organisations handle the complaints. Brushing employee’s complaints aside or inconsistent application of the workplace harassment policy dampens their confidence that such incidents will be looked into seriously.
Whether it’s a supervisor, line manager or HR executive, send them for courses on how to manage workplace harassment. Some skills and knowledge that may be helpful for them include the awareness of work risk factors that may result in harassment, potential signs of harassment, grievance procedure, and investigation and case management.
Employers are responsible to provide employees with a safe and healthy workplace, and one that is harassment-free. Remember, employees who feel safe and valued in their workplace is a win-win for all – they are far more likely to be productive, creative and loyal to the organisation. Start reviewing your policies and procedures now. One way is to refer to the Tripartite Advisory on Managing Workplace Harassment for more guidance on preventive measures to ensure a safe and conducive workplace.
Employees should also make every effort to cooperate with their employers to ensure a conducive and productive work environment. If you experienced or witnessed harassment at the workplace, seek help immediately from your organisation, so that they can intervene promptly to ensure your well-being. If your organisation does not have a policy to manage harassment yet, you may contact TAFEP for possible actions that you can take.
1 Wong, P. T. (2021, Oct 18). The Big Read: Toxic workplaces more common than we think but when do we say enough is enough? Channel News Asia, retrieved from: https://www.channelnewsasia.com/singapore/toxic-workplaces-abusive-bosses-mental-health-2249291
2 Rojas. F. (2020, Apr 17). The Modern Workplace: Tips For Creating An Employee Social Media Policy. Forbes, retrieved from: https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbesagencycouncil/2020/04/17/the-modern-workplace-tips-for-creating-an-employee-social-media-policy/?sh=846357a1f1c3