Cyberbullying in the workplace

Sam Farley

In August, British teenager Hannah Smith hanged herself after being cyberbullied by Internet trolls on the website, an anonymous ask and answer service. Hannah was not the first teenager driven to suicide by online abuse.

More than 40 teen suicides in the last decade in the U.S., U.K. Canada and Australia have been linked to cyberbulling, according to research conducted by Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia. The problem has become so serious that British Prime Minister David Cameron reminded the public that inciting harm or violence online is breaking the law.

Evidence suggests that cyberbullying is also becoming a problem in workplaces. In the past decade a multitude of communication new technologies have been implemented in the workplace.

Research has reported that platforms such as email, telephone calls and text messages are being used to antagonize employees. However there are reasons to believe that the behaviors perpetrated in an organizational context are more subtle than those observed among children and adolescents. This is because employees are bound by regulations that prohibit explicit abuse aimed at co-workers.

Although studies indicate that cyberbullying is less common than offline bullying, the severity and vulgarity of messages sent through technology can be extreme.

The vulgar nature of such messages can be explained by two aspects of virtual communication. First, perpetrators and the victims are rarely in the same location when a message is sent. This means perpetrators are unable to see the hurt caused by their actions, and they consequently cannot empathize with the victim. Second, when communicating virtually, people engage with technology to such an extent that they become less conscious of their behaviour, and less aware of the impact their messages can have on a communication partner.

Much of the media and government attention on cyberbullying has focused on teenagers. Therefore, I’m working on a research project that further investigates cyberbullying in the workplace. The aim my study is to identify behaviors defined by most workers as cyberbullying in order to better measure the phenomenon.

To take part, click here to take the five-minute questionnaire.

Note: Anyone currently in employment can participate in the study, regardless of whether you have experienced or witnessed cyberbullying.This research has received ethical approval from the University of Sheffield. Data provided will remain confidential and anonymous. If you would like a copy of the feedback report, please email me.