Bosses told to tighten social media policies

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Hawke's Bay businesses need to tighten social media policies to combat the rise of workplace cyber bullying.

Six out of 10 Kiwi workers believe their workplace privacy has been eroded with the proliferation of social media, a new study reveals.

Offensive emails, the uploading of embarrassing photos and even unwanted romantic advances have infiltrated the workplace with often negative effects for employees. Many now limit their use of social networking sites as a result, the AVG Technologies' Digital Work Life study found.

Grow HR director Murray Cowan said while the firm hadn't come across the issue yet in Hawke's Bay, it was likely to rear its head in coming years.

"We've got about 500 clients - all employers - and we haven't had anybody raise that.

"There's misuse of computers and technology, but nothing to do with cyber bullying ... bullying, but not cyber bullying."

There was a greater awareness of harassment and bullying in the workplace, however there was considerable confusion about what the terms meant, Mr Cowan said.

"It does pay to have policies to cover those sorts of things."

Mr Cowan said with the growth of digital information technology in the workplace, he was sure cyber bullying would "come to the fore" - which local businesses should prepare for.

The study found one in 10 respondents had discovered secret discussions initiated by colleagues about them online and 9 per cent had embarrassing photos or videos from work events uploaded on the web.

Nine-out-of-10 respondents believed sending unpleasant or defamatory remarks to or about a colleague using digital communications constituted cyber bullying.

Other forms included posting negative comments on social media about a colleague's appearance and criticising fellow workers behind their back through email, instant messaging, or social media.

NetSafe executive director Martin Cocker said workplace cyber bullying appeared common. However, specific cyber bullying policies were rare and most computer-based work environments needed clearer guidelines around the use of digital communications and social media.

"Wherever there's technology and there's people then there tends to be a bit of cyber bullying and workplaces do suffer from bullying and harassment just like any other environment."

The study also found 4 per cent of respondents had found themselves subjected to unwanted online romantic advances.

Technology gave some users a sense of confidence, but soliciting co-workers online was not recommended, Mr Cocker said.

Conversations with colleagues of a romantic or sexual nature should be kept away from work computers as most employers kept a record of all digital correspondence.

AVG Technologies security advisor Michael McKinnon said the study highlighted the need for greater education around social media and more focus on social media etiquette at work.

"Until everyone is clear about exactly what is and isn't acceptable online, trying to enforce policies will just fail, leaving the door open to cyber bullying and invasion of privacy."

To prevent personal information being circulated at work, many adults are turning away from social media altogether.

Of those who agreed social media has eroded workplace privacy, nearly a fifth now avoid posting on social networks that have caused them privacy concerns, while 22 per cent limit their posts.

One in five respondents are not protected from cyber-bullying through existing workplaces policies. Only 39 per cent of Kiwi workers know of a comprehensive cyber bullying policy in their workplace.APNZ

- Hawkes Bay Today

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