Hidden cyberbullying is as common as conventional counterpart in the workplace

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.

Credit: istock/Kameleon007

Occupational psychologists Dr Christine Sprigg, Dr Carolyn Axtell and Sam Farley of the University of Sheffield, together with Dr 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.

festivalThe 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 Dr 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 Dr. 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,” Dr 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,” Dr Coyne said.

Additional information

Festival of Social Science

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. Press releases detailing some of the varied events are available at the Festival website. You can now follow updates from the Festival on twitter using #esrcfestival.

The University of Sheffield

With nearly 25,000 students from 125 countries, the University of Sheffield is one of the UK’s leading and largest universities. A member of the Russell Group, it has a reputation for world-class teaching and research excellence across a wide range of disciplines. The University of Sheffield has been named University of the Year in the Times Higher Education Awards for its exceptional performance in research, teaching, access and business performance. In addition, the University has won four Queen’s Anniversary Prizes (1998, 2000, 2002, and 2007).

These prestigious awards recognise outstanding contributions by universities and colleges to the United Kingdom’s intellectual, economic, cultural and social life. Sheffield also boasts five Nobel Prize winners among former staff and students and many of its alumni have gone on to hold positions of great responsibility and influence around the world. The University’s research partners and clients include Boeing, Rolls-Royce, Unilever, Boots, AstraZeneca, GSK, ICI, Slazenger, and many more household names, as well as UK and overseas government agencies and charitable foundations.

The University has well-established partnerships with a number of universities and major corporations, both in the UK and abroad. Its partnership with Leeds and York Universities in the White Rose Consortium has a combined research power greater than that of either Oxford or Cambridge.

Contact

For further information please contact:

Paul Mannion
Media Relations Officer
The University of Sheffield
0114 222 9851
p.f.mannion@sheffield.ac.uk