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Workplace cyber bullying becoming more widespread

07 November, 2012

Cyber bullying – using modern communications such as e-mails, texts or web-postings - is as common in the workplace as ‘conventional’ bullying. Yet, the way cyber bullying influences both the victim and witnesses is more hidden in the workplace.

These are the findings of ‘Punched from the Screen’ - new research into workplace bullying carried out by occupational psychologists at The University of Nottingham and the University of Sheffield. in the UK.

"The study shines a light on this relatively new phenomenon. We believe our research is likely to have implications for the way that employers formulate policies and guidelines relating to cyber bullying,"  Dr Iain Coyne from The University of Nottingham's Institute of Work, Health and Organisations, said.

The study was carried out by Dr Coyne and Dr Christine Sprigg, Dr Carolyn Axtell and Sam Farley from the University of Sheffield. Of the 320 people who responded to the survey around eight out of ten had experienced bullying behaviour on at least one occasion in the previous six months.

Employers need to tackle cyber bullying

Until now the impact of cyber bullying has mainly focused on younger people, in environments such as schools, rather than adult workers. The research suggests on how employers should tackle and prevent cyber bullying in the workplace. This will become more important as communication technologies continue to evolve and become more widespread.

The study included three separate surveys among employees in several UK universities. It asked people about their experiences of cyber bullying and examined the impact of cyber bullying on workers’ mental strain and wellbeing. The researchers gave them a list of what can be classed as bullying, such as being humiliated, ignored or gossiped about and asked if they had faced such behaviour online and how often.

"The results also showed 14 to 20 per cent of the people who responded had experienced one of these on at least a weekly basis – a similar rate to conventional bullying," Dr Coyne said.

"Overall, those who had experienced cyber bullying tended to have higher mental strain and lower job satisfaction. In one of our surveys this effect was shown to be worse for cyber bullying than for conventional bullying."

Witnesses of cyber bullying are less affected

The research team also found that the impact of witnessing cyber bullying was different than that seen for conventional bullying.

"In the research literature, people who witness conventional bullying also show evidence of reduced wellbeing. However, in our research this does not appear to be the case for the online environment" Dr Coyne said.

"Witnesses are much less affected. This might be because of the remote nature of cyberspace – perhaps people empathise less with the victims. This could affect the witness’s reaction to the bullying and potentially whether to report it or otherwise intervene."

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Nicole de borovac | Tuesday, November 13, 2012, 10:53 AM
i really hate to hear this kind of thing - i was at the receiving end of nasty emails and faxes - I had no assistance from my employees - suffered severe anxiety because I was not being supported when I really needed to be heard. I finally moved on - and in my eyes i thought this person would think they had won because I left the company - however I am so glad I did because I am in a much better work environment with people who care - so do move on if you don't get the support - do not be frightened to - because you win in the end especially if you make sure you are in a better situation...
Nicole de borovac | Thursday, November 15, 2012, 10:07 AM
Since nobody is commenting on this issue I would like to agree that being cyber bullied in comparison to being bullied face to face was harder to deal with for me anyway. If I was able to be in the same room as this person and confront them my self I could of sorted it out...but I was in an office at the other end of Sydney away from this person - so this made it more difficult - and for personal reasons I was not compelled to go to this persons office and confront them as it was a small company and colleagues would of known what I was doing and also I was unsure if I would be backed up - because others were perhaps afraid of speaking out about this person in case issues arised ...frankly I believe that all (smallest included) company owners should take a complaint seriously - If this had been a larger known business I would of taken it all the way to the courts and hopefully this person would of been given what they deserved - a nice big fat fine or a day with some nice crims in jail might do it!
Mark Chapel | Wednesday, November 21, 2012, 9:07 AM
Nicole, not sure what cyber bullying is actually. If you receive offensive or threatening text, simply save it and present it to your supervisor. If no action is taken then go further. I am not being argumentative, but I just can't see the problem.
Nicole Borovac | Wednesday, November 21, 2012, 2:31 PM
No problem - I did save the emails and presented them to my supervisor but was not supported - I had to leave - it was a short term problem Mark - as I had to move on when I was not the bully. Best thing I did though!
Mark Chapel | Thursday, November 22, 2012, 7:54 AM
Nicole, this angers me. You were bullied but not supported even with proof. I know you can go higher but I understand the thinking that you may as well leave. But it still angers me that you had to. Hope the new job is working out for you.
Nicole Borovac | Thursday, November 22, 2012, 7:25 PM
yes it angered me too Mark - I became a walking time bomb of nerves anxiety and resentment - and I won't go into how my reaction affected the family - thanks for the support Regards Nicole