Rise of the cyberbully

Occupational psychologists have made disturbing discoveries about the workplace bully…

The internet hasn’t just brought information to our fingertips or made it easier to stay close to distant friends, it’s also made it easier to humiliate, criticise or hurt others without ever having to stand face-to-face. You may think bullying is something you leave behind in the school yard, but even as adults, it keeps raising its ugly head. Now, new research by occupational psychologists, suggests cyberbullying is equal to the rate of “conventional” bullying in the workplace with almost one in five employees experiencing it on a weekly basis.

It can be hard to ignore a staffer being humiliated in person, but the anonymity of the internet means cyberbullying can be hard to detect and less likely to be reported.

Research by the University of Sheffield and Nottingham University has found staggeringly high numbers of virtual tormenting in the workplace. Distributing three surveys, the universities questioned 320 employees, asking if they’d experienced bullying in the form of being humiliated, ignored or gossiped about. They found eight out of 10 had experienced one of these behaviours online in the last six months. Frightening.

The effects of bullying, including increased stress, depression and lower levels of “wellbeing”, are well known. After all, how can you not be affected when you spend your days waiting to be humiliated? But victims aren’t the only ones affected: those watching the verbal blood sport from the sidelines also suffer too. Whether it's from being eaten up by guilt or because it's just downright unpleasant to see, research shows witnesses of "conventional" bullying experience increased stress and unhappiness.

Disturbingly, witnesses of online bullying are less likely to be affected by what they see on their screens. Psychologists suggests it’s because it’s easier to ignore nasty comments on a Facebook wall and harder to empathise. Most people can’t ignore actually seeing someone being targeted, but they are easily able to turn a blind eye when less tangible cyberbullying is going on right under their nose. What makes this dangerous is it means they are also less likely intervene or report this type of harassment.

Have you been bullied in the workplace or online? Did you report it?