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Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Can netiquette diffuse workplace cyberbullying?

What does your online communications say about you?

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Being aware of how people perceive your communication style across work email and other communication technologies such as social media can be important in establishing credibility and approachability. As discussed in Sarah Browne's article this week, "Personal Development:How to wreck your first job in one simple text"  without necessarily being conscious of it, there is a tendency for people to perceive, and use, workplace communication technology slightly differently to one another. 

Contemporary communication technologies are leading to rapidly changing job expectations, organisational culture, and less conventional online and offline workplace behaviours (Coovert & Thompson, 2003). Unconventional online communication behaviours have the potential to deliver productivity enhancements, but may also lead to greater opportunities for miscommunication. This is particularly the case as cyber-communications are increasingly blurring the lines between work and home, leading to perceptions of bullying and harassment (Giumetti, McKibben, Hatfield, Schroeder, & Kowalski, 2012) as indicated in Browne's article,

                      In some European countries, new employee-employer communications protocols are in place. In Germany, even the Government has become involved, banning certain types of after-hours communication behaviour such as phone calls. Some corporations such as VW actually turn off email at close of business. While these practices don't appear to be widespread elsewhere, human resources professionals are monitoring the trends closely.
                                                               (Sarah Brown, 2015, February 24)

Employees now have access to a broad spectrum of cyber-communications including email, sms, instant messaging, video conferencing, social media etc. It is generally agreed that these online communication platforms are transforming the way humans think, communicate and socialise (Hinduja & Patchin, 2013; Oliver & Candappa, 2003; Wang, Iannotti, Luk, 2010; Williams & Guerra, 2007).

Contemporary fast paced work environments can be stressful and can provide opportunities for misunderstandings to occur between employees (Seigne, Coyne, Randall, & Parker, 2007) that, if allowed to escalate without intervention, has the capacity to reach a level of intensity, frequency and duration that develops into bullying (Einarsen, Hoel, Zapf, & Cooper, 2003). This can sometimes be more likely in highly disparate teams or organisations where people's expectations, backgrounds and responses are so divergent there may be little to no common ground with which to resolve conflict.

This point may be crucial for contemporary organisations actively seeking employee diversity to create a new business edge or enhance productivity and innovation. Research has found that well managed diverse teams are more likely to provide thought leadership on challenges deemed to be just "over the horizon", to quickly develop clever and innovative solutions, be adaptive and are generally highly productive (Peters, 2004). 

Dr Lawrence has a BA SSc and a PhD in organisational social psychology and works with individuals and organisations as a consultant, speaker and trainer. She uses her social science expertise to enhance interactions between organisations and the people who lead and work in them by fostering new insights for diagnosing organisational problems, and build new capabilities and culture.

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