Bullying at work can cause serious stress.
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While just as common as conventional bullying, cyberbullying in the workplace can be worse for its victims, new research finds.
A study by researchers at British universities Nottingham University and the University of Sheffield revealed that employees who experience cyberbullying — using modern communications technology such as emails, texts or Web postings to abuse people – suffered more than victims of regular forms of bullying.
"Overall, those that had experienced cyberbullying tended to have higher mental strain and lower job satisfaction," said researcher Iain Coyne of Nottingham University. "This effect was shown to be worse for cyberbullying than for conventional bullying."
The study included three separate surveys asking employees about their cyberbullying experiences.
"We gave people a list of what can be classified as bullying, such as being humiliated, ignored or gossiped about, and asked them if they had faced such behavior online and how often," Coyne said.
Of the 320 people who responded to the survey, around eight out of 10 had experienced one of the listed cyberbullying behaviors at least once in the last six months.
The researchers also found that the impact of witnessing cyberbullying was different than that seen for conventional bullying, which past studies show can also result in reduced well-being.
"Witnesses are much less affected," Coyne said. "This might be because of the remote nature of cyberspace – perhaps people empathize less with the victims."
Coyne argued that this could affect the witness's reaction to the bullying and potentially whether to report it or intervene.
"We believe our research will likely have implications for the way that employers formulate policies and guidelines relating to cyberbullying," Coyne said.
The study, which will be revealed at a seminar during the Economic and Social Research Council's (ESRC) annual Festival of Social Science in November, was co-authored by Christine Sprigg, Carolyn Axtell and Sam Farley of the University of Sheffield.