Toxicity in Slack: Addressing Workplace Bullying & Harassment in SaaS Tools

Michael Osakwe
February 26, 2020
Toxicity in Slack: Addressing Workplace Bullying & Harassment in SaaS ToolsToxicity in Slack: Addressing Workplace Bullying & Harassment in SaaS Tools
Michael Osakwe
February 26, 2020
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Despite many organizations’ best efforts, harassment remains a persistent part of some employees’ experiences at work. Resources like those published by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Task Force (EEOC), the Workplace Bullying Institute, as well as a body of academic literature suggest that bullying and harassment are both significantly underreported and very costly for firms. For instance, nearly one-third of the EEOC’s employment discrimination claims in the fiscal year of 2015 involved workplace harassment. More broadly, the most recent survey from the Workplace Bullying Institute in 2017 suggests that nearly 30 million workers have experienced some form of bullying throughout their careers.

While strong HR policies are critical for addressing workplace toxicity, the proliferation of SaaS collaboration tools like Slack has expanded the domains where HR policies must be applied. This can complicate both HR policy implementation and enforcement, as new technologies introduce new forms of harassment while altering the methods that HR teams can use to identify and address incidents.

Although there are studies focusing on workplace bullying and harassment more generally, there’s little insight into the role that collaborative tools might play in enabling workplace toxicity. There are, however, studies suggesting that more workers are feeling bullied than ever before, making it all the more important to address harassment wherever it takes place.

How can organizations address bullying and harassment in Slack?

Addressing toxicity in Slack is a very broad and complex issue, but there are four considerations that provide a great starting point for solving this problem. They are:

  • Identifying how to evaluate  harassment and bullying organization-wide
  • Building a culture of consistency with your code of conduct
  • Encouraging the adoption of proper Slack etiquette
  • Enforcement of your organization’s code of conduct within Slack

We discuss each of these below.

Identifying how to evaluate harassment and bullying organization-wide

An organization’s effectiveness in addressing toxicity is going to ultimately rest on its ability to identify the types of behaviors contributing to a toxic work environment. There exist many different types of harassment, which often require different approaches to manage.

The EEOC denotes that harassment can include various behaviors - like jokes, epithets, or intimidation and assault. Additionally, it can happen on the basis of race, sex, and a variety of other protected classes and can be carried out by supervisors or coworkers and vendors. Comprehensively tackling toxicity means taking all this into account and understanding what types of harassment and bullying are most persistent within your organizational culture. From there, you can determine which kinds of toxicity are most common on platforms like Slack.

Building a culture of consistency with your code of conduct

Your organization’s code of conduct will be one of its most important documents, given the role it plays in conveying your organization’s values as well as expectations of partners and employees. To this end, constructing a thorough code of conduct that reflects your leadership’s expectations for employees is critical. It should not only convey the types of toxic behaviors not tolerated by your organization, but also how these behaviors conflict with organizational values. Your organization’s code of conduct should also make explicit when, where, and how employee conduct will be evaluated. This can help set the expectation that behavior in Slack at 9 pm on a Friday, for example, should be no less cordial or professional than behavior in a Monday morning team sync held in the office.

Encouraging proper Slack etiquette among employees

In tandem with having a detailed code of conduct with clear expectations around employee behavior, helping users develop a shared understanding of Slack etiquette across your workspace can minimize friction and misunderstandings. This can be done through training on how to use Slack as well as supplementary documentation made available to users of your workspace. What counts as proper etiquette will, in part, be influenced by the type of company culture your organization wishes to create. For example, your organizational culture may determine whether or not it’s okay for employees to create off-topic channels, like a March Madness betting pool. Still, there are basic behaviors that will likely be standard aspects of good Slack etiquette, like keeping personal discussions, especially ones about work performance, out of public channels. Slack has a short blog post on basic etiquette that should apply to most teams.

Enforcing your code of conduct on Slack

Crafting a detailed code of conduct and ensuring employees understand it is only half the battle, as you’ll need to have a plan for enforcing your code of conduct within Slack. 

Proper policy enforcement can begin with stakeholders who understand and embody the code of conduct. Slack administrators are your organization’s first line of defense against misuse and abuse of Slack, which is a point we made in a previous post on Slack security. Additionally, some of the practices highlighted in that post, like enforcing a consistent channel creation process can not only help secure your Slack channels but ensure that employees have a better sense of what is and isn’t appropriate to share on Slack.

Code of conduct enforcement can also be aided with tools that help provide visibility into how Slack is being used by employees. Slack integrates with third-party services, like Nightfall, for this very purpose. While Nightfall is a data loss prevention (DLP) platform typically used by security teams to find inappropriate sharing of personally identifiable information (PII), some of our customers, like Aaron’s Furniture, have found Nightfall extremely suitable for HR policy enforcement within Slack.

As a DLP platform leveraging machine learning, Nightfall can give admins the ability to filter through Slack messages and files for specific types of content like PII or even toxic language that violates an organization’s code of conduct. Furthermore, Nightfall supports workflows that allow for automatic detection, notification, and removal of such content. This allows teams to enforce policies without having to dedicate an extensive amount of time to this issue. Ultimately, Nightfall provides the perfect window into how Slack users’ behavior is complying with various polices, from data legislation like the CCPA to your company’s code of conduct.

If you’re interested in learning more about Nightfall for Slack, you can view our guide or schedule a brief demo with our team.

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