As more offices join those already virtual, what do you do when your employees are harassed online? Employers are required under U.S. laws to maintain workplaces free from harassment and discrimination. According to a recent study, over 44% of Americans encounter a barrage of hate and abuse online—you may have people this behavior has already impacted. Journalists, academics, policymakers, and others, deal with this type of harassment daily. And still, the professional impact of harassment and abuse online is drastically understudied.
Online harassers know that they stand a good chance of not getting caught or stopped–the hyper-digital world they live in exacerbates hate and harassment online.
Learn how an employee cybersecurity training and sexual harassment training can help solve this problem.
How does online harassment damage professionals?
For one, it suppresses the speech of many underrepresented –the very voices that most urgently need to be heard. Employers need to do better. When employees are attacked online due to their professional roles, organizations are obligated to take the abuse seriously and address this issue.
Employers may not know where to start. Here we provide you several steps to help you support your teams in responding to and mitigating the damage.
As more organizations commit to providing equitable work environments, they cannot afford to ignore the consequences of online abuse.
Countless articles exist on rampant online abuse in tech, finance, gaming, higher ed, and beyond. Amazingly, staff have been reprimanded, suspended, and even fired for being harassed!
A 2017 survey by PEN America of journalists and writers found that 33% of those who had experienced online abuse reported an adverse impact on their professional lives.
- 64% staying clear from social media
- 37% are avoiding specific topics
- 15% quit publishing
Another study found that 90% of female and non-gendered or nonbinary journalists stated that online harassment is the single most significant threat.
Taking a stance
Acceptance: Leadership needs to let staff know that they take the issue seriously and expect managers and colleagues to do the same to create a culture where the team feels supported and safe. If they are being abused online and come forward, they need to feel confident that management will help them.
Typically, because there’s still a great deal of shame and stigma attached to harassment, targets have chosen to suffer in isolation–they may have concerns about being mocked, dismissed, or punished. Amending existing company policies formalizes and reinforces their commitment to staff wh are abused online. This level of commitment should be openly communicated via meetings, emails and demonstrated by how managers and HR handle individual cases.
Scope: Surveying staff helps you understand how employees are navigating online abuse. It should capture:
- How often are teams experiencing abuse?
- How can the institution offer support?
- On which platforms do they experience the abuse?
- What is the psychological, emotional, and professional impact?
- What tactics are being used to harass?
Training and protocols: Training your staff to recognize sexual harassment and knowing what to do in each scenario empowers them to react accordingly and not allow themselves to be victimized.
Harvard Business Law offers excellent insight into these steps, so they can be proactive and learn how to respond to protect themselves.
Clear protocols help your staff feel safe. Many organizations are now incorporating these initiatives into onboarding, team member handbooks, posting them on their intranets.
- Digital security: Requiring two-factor authentication and long passwords help prevents hacking and fraud.
- Online abuse: Here is what team members can do if they are being harassed online. Establish how to report issues internally and your company’s position on counter speech, a tactic used in neutralizing hate speech.
- Social media: If you already have a social media policy, consider including a responsive approach that outlines how employees navigate abuse.
- Internal reporting systems: Create a place where staff can confidentially report the abuse. They need to know whom to approach, especially if their managers have previously dismissed their concerns or if the harassment is sexually explicit.
Designate a small task force to clarify what kinds of abuse staff can report, create a reporting mechanism, and ensure prompt follow-through. Reporting systems help identify abuse patterns before they become problematic.
- Resources and services: Here are so some sites to look into:
- Password or LastPass
- DeleteMe or PrivacyDuck
Another great resource is the Online Harassment Field Manual.
- Moderate content: Fostering open online debate is essential—so, too, is defining what you consider abusive; decide how you will deal with such comments.
- Statement of support: If staff are being harassed in response to their work, the odds are that the abusers want to intimidate them into self-censorship or push them out of professional spaces. Let the staff know you have their backs by taking a stand against hate and harassment online.
- Boost Your Cybersecurity
Abusive trolls often try to “dox” you (access and broadcast your private information to humiliate or intimidate you).
Having the mental capacity to deal with cybersecurity when under attack can be very challenging and draining. Here are some ways to prevent hacking and impersonation:
- Password hygiene: use long passwords (at least 16 characters)
- never re-use passwords
- invent answers to security questions,
- set up two-factor authentication
Ultimately, if teams work together, they can effectively stop cyberbullying and sexual harassment in the workplace. Providing access to proactive cyber services, offering digital security, implementing anti-harassment policies, and anti-harassment training are all good places to start.