There is a difference between your personal and professional brand, although they are overlapping more and more, thanks to social networking.

It’s one thing when you damage your own brand, but there is a form of workplace bullying that can impact on you personally, and it is critical to address it quickly, should it happen to you.

When your personal integrity is brought into question, the damage can be far reaching. As a woman, it is extremely important to set personal standards and guidelines for yourself in the workplace, and ensure that the lines are not crossed eg inappropriate teasing and comments about your looks, sexuality, and personal life are not OK.

There is an enormous difference between a lovely compliment, and a comment about your appearance that makes you feel deeply uncomfortable. Sometimes, it is not the words, but the way they are said, and where they are looking when they speak, that causes the discomfort.

"Get a sense of humour" is a bully's favourite refrain, as it makes the victim look childish and sound defensive, when they object to jokes at their expense.

Depending on your level of confidence, and ability to deal with bullies, make decisions about how available you want your personal

profile to be to your work colleagues. While many people are starting to develop personal and business profiles (eg deciding to make Facebook personal, and LinkedIn business), many more open up all their profiles to both friends and colleagues. Should you do that, you do need to monitor what is out there for people to see.

Unfortunately, the knowledge that there is damage to our personal brand is difficult to come by. There is a natural reluctance to tell colleagues what is being said about them, for many reasons.

This means that the awareness might come through less opportunities, being passed over for promotion, or just a feeling that relationships are tense, or less open.

There is a tendency to believe negative stories, based on guesses or beliefs about others.

Very few people ask for the source when a story is funny or a bit unkind.

Once the rumour is repeated, the mere repeating creates a gravitas, the rumour becomes a belief and then people start to say that there is no smoke without fire. Sometimes, there is no fire, just a malicious assumption based on insufficient facts which gathers momentum, and denial just adds fuel to a vapourware fire.

A few years ago, a high school teacher in Gauteng was named on Facebook as the perpetrator of sex crimes in his school.

Later, the actual guilty party was named, but the damage to the innocent teacher's personal brand is real.

Should you be the victim of personal brand damage, it is extremely important to manage it. Innocence is very difficult to prove, but guilt does need proof, too. Shakespeare's Hamlet has led us to believe that too much protest means guilt, not true at all, of course. How we handle gossip about ourselves is more about personality and confidence levels than guilt, most of the time.

A structured, analytical approach is a good way forward, though. Ask for a meeting with your line manager, or HR, as a kick off, with your future career as the main discussion point. If your company is formal submit an agenda with topics including your aspirations, skills and personal brand. You are then able to align your career objectives with your concerns around the stories circulating about you, and ask for advice and assistance in finding a way to get a more positive image in the company.

This type of bullying is hard to stop, because it can be so difficult to find the source.

Once management and HR are aware that it is happening, there are a number of steps that can be taken to move the culture away from bullying generally.

Workshops and open communication can go a long way to raising the impact, on both people and the company, of a negative workplace clearly showing how much nicer (and more productive) it is to work in a place where kindness is the norm.

“You are the chief marketing officer for the brand called you, but what others say about your brand is more impactful than what you say about yourself.” Dan Schawbel

Links and References

Accsys provides people management solutions ie Payroll, Human Resources (HR), Time and Attendance as well as Access Control/Visitor Management.

The company develops, implements, trains and services our solutions. We provide readers, turnstiles, booms and CCTV.

We run both on premise and in the cloud, as well as mobile options for ESS. Recruitment, online education and Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) are part of our offering, too.