Is there a troll in your team?

Trolls hide their identity online, so you won't always know they are in your team - but you may notice the impact they are having on engagement.

Victoria September 27, 2021
Reading time: 4 minutes

If you spend time on social media, you don’t need to look far to find a troll. These are people or accounts who show deviant, malicious or antisocial behaviour online. Their aim is to offend and trigger conflict. This is an obvious and prolific form of cyberbullying.

 

Often trolls hide their true identity online, so it wouldn’t be obvious if you had an internet troll in your team. One in three people say they have experience of receiving abuse online. Sadly, we’re not talking about something rare and unusual.

 

A 2014 study showed those who said they enjoyed internet trolling had common personality traits. These included narcissism, Machiavellianism, psychopathy, and sadism. In short, trolls enjoy making you feel bad. 

 

So if people are 'trolling' online, in their own time, with a hidden identity, should you care about having trolls in your team?

 

Yes. You absolutely should.

 

Trolls are bullies. Their behaviour can lead to psychological damage of themselves and others. And there are many documented cases of where it has led to suicide.

 

It's also very likely that these character traits and behaviours are present in the workplace (albeit to a lesser degree). Some believe that internet trolling is a way of discharging this type of behaviour so that it is less likely to appear face-to-face. Having a secret troll on your team means having someone who is unkind, aggressive and unwilling to be accountable for their actions. They aren't the ideal team member. 

 

Having people that display these personality traits and enjoy spouting hate online is bad for culture and employee engagement. All organisations should have zero tolerance on bullying, whatever form it takes.

 

A great culture is built around a psychologically safe space, where people can be themselves and everyone is welcomed. Trolls can be hugely problematic for creating a healthy & inclusive working environment.

 

How can you protect your team from trolls?

 

The best way to protect your team is to research a potential recruit online before hiring them. Be careful here, this is not a forensic deep-dive into someone’s online activity! If you can find evidence demonstrating trolling behaviour, this should be a red flag against welcoming them to your team.

 

More workplaces have gone remote and rely on written communication for every day interaction. This helps shape the culture of a team and build employee engagement.  There is now more opportunity for people to bring their toxic habits into the workplace. The wrong thing to do is to monitor online behaviour of your employees. This can erode trust and create engagement problems of a different kind.

 

Allowing employees to provide regular anonymous feedback is a safe way for them to raise concerns. Employees can pro-actively share their thoughts about culture and engagement. This allows you to spot any signs of toxicity creeping in and address them before they grow.

 

In extreme cases, cyberbullying is illegal, it carries a prison sentence and a fine of up to £5,000. As an employer, you are legally responsible for the actions of your employees whilst in your employment, even if you didn’t know about it, or endorse it.

 

If an employee makes hateful comments online they can be traced back and may be considered to be representative of the business. Dealing with cyberbullying appropriately may be a legal obligation as well as a moral one. Many organisations are dealing with online behaviour & social media in policies. If you are, it should cover trolls, cyberbullying and harassment.

 

The behaviours and traits of trolls and cyberbullies may creep into the workplace where they can be as damaging as they are online. Taking a zero tolerance approach on such attitudes is the only way to deal with trolls. Providing employees with a safe way to share concerns anonymously is an important way to protect the health of your organisation and its culture.

 

To find out more about how Space HR can help your employees to share feedback, find out more on our website www.spacehr.co.uk.



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