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Is It Workplace Bullying To Unfriend A Co-worker?

Have you ever unfriended a current co-worker on Facebook? Well, a workplace tribunal Down Under has ruled that doing so could be considered a form of workplace bullying!

The decision arises from one employee's complaint to Australia's Fair Work Commission that she had been unfriended by a work colleague. According to a story in the Australian Financial Review, the tribunal thought the unfriending revealed a "lack of emotional maturity" and was "indicative of unreasonable behaviour."

I've covered the topic from the perspective of the co-worker who has been Facebook dumped by ex-colleagues, but this decision from the summer-impending Southern Hemisphere raises some very 21st-Century workplace social media implications.

Namely, is unfriending a current co-worker a form of passive-aggressive workplace bullying?

Hmm. I do think there are contexts in which unfriending a co-worker could potentially constitute a form of workplace bullying. For example, when one staff member is unfriended from online workplace discussions and the exclusion begins to hurt the employee's overall productivity, because he he she is no longer privy to much-needed information about the work that everyone else has (e.g., "I didn't know about the meeting").

With work discussions moving on to social media and other online platforms and apps, exclusion in the form of unfriending (or blocking or hiding) could have a very real impact on employee performance. It's something managers need to think about, considering a recent study found employees tend to unfriend co-workers on Facebook in response to something this co-worker did, or said, offline.

On the other hand, employees do need some degree of freedom in whom they friend at work. Or unfriend, as the case may be. There can be valid reasons for unfriending a colleague online. Feeling cyberbullied by a co-worker, for example.

The unfriending of current work colleagues is an issue savvy U.S. employers might want to address through a random status update. Are employees required to stay online friends, or not? Are there circumstances in which unfriending a co-worker is acceptable, and circumstances in which it is not? What is the workplace etiquette, and/or process, around unfriending a current co-worker? And is it still okay to post daily photos of our pumpkin spice latte?

It's something employers will need to figure out in 120 characters or less, since they're making us work together online every day.


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