London: Office bullies are increasingly resorting to text messages, emails and the internet to attack and abuse their colleagues, a new study has found.
Cyberbullying - using modern communications technology such as e-mails, texts or web-postings to abuse people - is as common in the workplace as 'conventional' bullying.
Yet, the way cyberbullying influences both the victim and witnesses are more hidden in the workplace, according to new research by occupational psychologists.
Until now the impact of cyberbullying has mainly focused on younger people in environments such as schools rather than adult workers.
Researchers suggest 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.
"We gave people a list of what can be classed as bullying, such as being humiliated, ignored or gossipped about, and asked them if they had faced such behaviour on-line and how often," said Dr Iain Coyne from the Nottingham University.
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 percent people experienced them on at least a weekly basis - a similar rate to conventional bullying.
The research team also examined the impact of cyberbullying on workers' mental strain and wellbeing.
"Overall, those that had experienced cyberbullying tended to have higher mental strain and lower job satisfaction. In one of our surveys, this effect was shown to be worse for cyberbullying than for conventional bullying," Coyne said in a statement.
The research team also found that the impact of witnessing cyberbullying was different than that seen for conventional bullying.
"In the research literature, people who witness conventional bullying also show evidence of reduced wellbeing. However, in our research this does not appear to be the case for the online environment.
"Witnesses are much less affected. This might be because of the remote nature of cyberspace - perhaps people empathise less with the victims. This could affect the witness's reaction to the bullying and potentially whether to report it or otherwise intervene," Coyne said.
First Published: Sunday, November 4, 2012, 14:28