Cyberbullying through e-mail, text and web posts is as common in the workplace as conventional bullying but even more difficult to uncover, research by experts from the University of Sheffield has revealed.
Occupational psychologists Christine Sprigg, Carolyn Axtell and Sam Farley of the University of Sheffield, together with Iain Coyne of the University of Nottingham, turned the focus of their investigation onto cyberbullying of adult workers, instead of younger people in schools, for which more research has taken place.
The results of their research will be revealed at a seminar during the Economic and Social Research Council’s (ESRC) annual Festival of Social Science at an event in the Showroom Workstation, Paternoster Row, on Wednesday 7 Novemer 2012 from 5pm until 8pm.
The team will also make suggestions on how employers should tackle and prevent cyberbullying in the workplace. Researchers believe that cyberbullying 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, asking people about their experiences of cyberbullying in the workplace.
Survey respondents were given a list of what can be classed as bullying, such as being humiliated, ignored or gossiped about, and were asked if they had faced such behaviour online and how often.
Of the 320 people who responded to the survey, around eight out of ten had experienced one of the listed cyberbullying behaviours on at least one occasion in the previous six months.
The results also showed 14 to 20 per cent experienced them at least once a week - a similar rate to conventional bullying. The research team also examined the impact of cyberbullying on workers’ mental strain and wellbeing.
"Our research showed that cyberbullying has a stronger negative impact on employee mental strain and job satisfaction than traditional, face to face bullying does," said Axtell.
The research team also found that the impact of witnessing cyberbullying was different than that seen for conventional bullying.
"In more traditional, face to face bullying, seeing someone else being bullied also has a negative impact on the wellbeing of the witness," said Sprigg. "However, we didn’t find the same negative effect for those who said they had witnessed others being cyberbullied.
"This might be because we are less aware of other people’s reactions online, and so the witnesses might not empathise so much with the victims. This could potentially mean that they are less likely to intervene," Axtell added.
The results of the research, which was partly funded by Sheffield University Management School , will be presented at a seminar to business representatives. "We believe our research will likely have implications for the way that employers formulate policies and guidelines relating to cyberbullying, and the seminar will be an opportunity for us to discuss our findings and learn about the experiences of other employers," Coyne said.