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22nd Nov 2021
Jealousy and Bullying

The Impact of Workplace Cyberbullying on Employee Well-Being

4th Oct 2021

Research Background

Workplace cyberbullying is defined as the experience of repetitive negative acts at work through technology, such as inappropriate language, unfair criticism, and threatening messages (Farley et al., 2016; Farley et al., 2017; Karthikeyan, 2020).

In his 2021 MSc research, BulliesOut Volunteer and Organisational Psychologist, Jason David Phillips, investigated whether, within the context of home working during the COVID-19 pandemic, exposure to negative acts online at work would reduce levels of employee flourishing (higher levels of well-being including self-acceptance, autonomy, purpose, growth, mastery and positive relationships) (Ryff and Keyes, 1995).

Additionally, Jason looked at whether spending time engaging in psychological detachment (not thinking about work during non-work time, such as completing distracting leisure activities), may reduce the level of impact workplace cyberbullying had on flourishing (Sonnentag & Fritz, 2007).

The Research Study

117 participants over the age of 18, employed for at least six months, participated in this study. 32.5% of them were classified as being targets of workplace cyberbullying, as they had reported being exposed to at least one online negative act weekly at work over the previous six-month period.

All participants completed the Workplace Cyberbullying Measure (Farley et al., 2016), Recovery Experience Questionnaire (Sonnentag & Fritz, 2007) and Flourishing Scale (Diener et al., 2010), as well as sharing details around their age, sex and highest level of educational attainment, amongst other demographic measurements.

The results of this study found evidence to suggest that employees exposed to higher levels of workplace cyberbullying acts in the previous six months were more likely to report lower levels of flourishing. It is hypothesised that participants in this present study exposed to workplace cyberbullying may have had higher demands to be ‘on call’ for work at unsociable times, thus impacting their time to be fully present and engage in activities that help them to flourish.

The results also revealed however that, within this participant sample, there was no relationship between psychological detachment and levels of flourishing in response to exposure to workplace cyberbullying. It may be suggested that in this study, the infiltration of participants’ ‘safe haven’ outside of an office space (Forssell, 2016) reduced their ability to effectively psychologically detach. In turn, those targeted by negative acts may have been unable to replenish their resources and ‘charge their batteries’ following exposure to workplace cyberbullying (Coyne et al., 2017).

It may also be proposed that the physical technological devices themselves may have contributed towards a reduction in the ability for psychological detachment to fully take place in response to workplace cyberbullying. This may be because participant targets are able to continuously revisit a physical written or verbal copy of a negative act and therefore become ‘quasi-perpetrators’, unwittingly bullying themselves (Farley et al., 2017). It could even be that the mere physical presence of a device acts as a reminder to targets of the negative acts previously displayed on them, subsequently interfering with the participants in this study to flourish accordingly.

Moving Forward

This research must be considered with caution, as some participants may have completed the survey during working hours and could have been concerned about organisational monitoring of their devices, therefore answering questions in a guarded manner.

It is hoped that this research can add to the existing body of findings to support organisational decision-makers to adapt technological systems, increasing workplace cyberbullying perpetrator accountability and justice for targets accordingly. This may also take the form of investigating alternative work recovery methods to effectively support targets whilst wider structural changes are implemented, reducing the need of them to leave their organisation and roles due to workplace cyberbullying.

Going forward, organisations are increasing their openness to hybrid working practices, where technology will be used as a communication medium in both an office and at home (Pataki-Bittó & Kapusy, 2021). Future research may benefit from further emphasising this new world of work, potentially even opening a new area of research – hybrid workplace bullying – to reflect the complexity of bullying behaviour in a new working world.

Written By Jason David Phillips, BulliesOut Volunteer.

Jason is a former PR and Communications professional. He is an Organisational Psychologist and Coach working to support the well-being of professionals through his writing at BulliesOut.

Image downloaded for free use from Unsplash (https://unsplash.com/photos/z5efRi-S138)

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