Recent figures show that one in five of us is a victim bullying at work, and one in six have been a victim or have been disciplined due to bullying colleagues on apps such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. But what can employers do to tackle the problem?
British workplaces are being negatively impacted by messaging app communication between colleagues, according to research published today by totaljobs. Worryingly, the figures suggest the likes of WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Slack are the source of workplace bullying and intimidation.
According to a survey of 3,047 workers across the country commissioned by totaljobs, a fifth (20 per cent) of employees have been victims of bullying via messaging apps.
A particularly worrying finding is that bullying is as likely to relate to personal circumstances (45 per cent of those bullied) as it is to professional performance (44 per cent), with more than a tenth experiencing bad behaviour that targets their sexual preference (15 per cent) or gender (12 per cent).
Not only does this communication happen out-of-sight of HR departments, the figures also show a third of those who have experienced bullying via messaging apps claim that they ignore it, and don’t confront the bully or attempt to resolve the issue with their manager. one in 12 have even gone as far as leaving their company as a result of bullying via messaging apps.
This is an alarming finding, considering how prevalent messaging apps are in the workplace. nine out of ten employees use them to communicate with colleagues, and we now have an average of five group chats with colleagues, compared to seven with family and friends.
It is clear employees are struggling to be professional when using messaging apps. Two out of five admit they’re less careful about what they say than via email or face-to-face and nearly three out of ten simply write messages as they think them. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the research has discovered this is a recipe for potential disaster.
A fifth admit they use messaging apps to moan about their colleagues and 16 per cent use the channel to gossip about them behind their backs. This has resulted in a fifth admitting they regret something they have said, with varying consequences. 16 per cent have also received a formal warning or disciplinary as a consequence of what they’ve said in a group chat and 7 per cent were forced to quit their job.
On the face of it
At first glance, the use of messaging apps would appear to have made improvements to people’s day-to-day work. Four out of five think messaging apps have had a positive impact on team building and two-thirds believe they help improve company culture.
Similarly, more than three-quarters think messaging apps have positively affected collaboration, with two out of five using apps such as WhatsApp to solve problems faster and collaborate outside of hours.
However, this way of working has had a distinct impact on workers’ personal lives. Indeed, the majority communicate with colleagues while on holiday, almost half do so while they’re on sick leave and a quarter message colleagues after a few drinks.
A third (31 per cent) think messaging apps have helped to break down work hierarchies. The research indicates they are even a popular method for bosses to formally address issues with their staff, with 37 per cent reporting having had a serious conversation with their boss via a messaging app.
Taking app control
While communication at work is typically policed by employers, conversations on messaging apps are often hidden from the eyes of our bosses. However, the research has shown that there is a degree of self-governance by the admin of a group chat, at the expense of the troublemakers.
The first act of self-policing is excluding unprofessional colleagues. 42 per cent of those that ever started a group chat have excluded a colleague from a group chat because they made inappropriate contributions.
The second act of self-governing is employees confronting unprofessional colleagues. 39 per cent have seen some form of inappropriate behaviour or content targeting someone on social media. A third of those have spoken about it face-to-face with the perpetrator or reported it to a manager.
Martin Talbot, group marketing director, at totaljobs, said: “A huge 90 per cent of workers are using messaging apps to communicate with colleagues. Although our research shows the platforms are often an efficient and collaborative means of communication, the immediacy of them can also cause people to speak without thinking and act unprofessionally.
“Employees would benefit from a code of behaviour that explains acceptable and appropriate use of messaging apps, and the actions that will be taken in the instance of any breach, which is especially important for work-enabled platforms such as Slack.
“We would encourage employees to check with their workplaces if they’re unaware of messaging guidelines as a first step. If unsure, don’t say anything on a messaging app that you wouldn’t say in person. If you see or experience bad behaviour, speak up, and don’t let colleagues on the receiving end suffer in silence.”