Punched from the Screen - workplace cyber bullying becoming more widespread

( Image: Istock)
( Image: Istock)

Cyber bullying – using modern 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.

Iain Coyne from The University of Nottingham’s Institute of Work, Health and Organisations , said: “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 and the seminar will be an opportunity for us to discuss our findings and learn about the experiences of other employers."

The study was carried out by Coyne and Christine Sprigg, 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.

Coyne said: “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. 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.

Coyne said: “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. 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.”

The results of the study will be presented at the special seminar for business representatives during the Economic and Social Research Council’s annual Festival Science which starts tomorrow. The Festival of Social Science is run by the Economic and Social Research Council and takes place from 3-10 November 2012. With events from some of the country’s leading social scientists, the Festival celebrates the very best of British social science research and how it influences our social, economic and political lives - both now and in the future. This year’s Festival of Social Science has over 170 creative and exciting events across the UK to encourage businesses, charities, government agencies, schools and college students to discuss, discover and debate topical social science issues.