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How to counter cyberbullying in the workplace

Troubleshooting Central

Cyberbullying has been a serious social issue since the start of online communication. However, the recent move toward an online-only (or hybrid) workplace has made things worse for both individuals and administrators.

According to one study, the frequency of cyberbullying rose 57% from from 2017 to 2022. Not only that, but 31% of the U.S. workforce experienced some form of online bullying.

What makes cyberbullying even more troubling is how multifaceted it is. 

To highlight the full extent of cyberbullying and how it affects people in different stages of life, we’ve put together a list of cyberbullying statistics you need to know.

Let’s dive into these statistics to discover what they tell us about the overall impact of cyberbullying and the many ways it affects working people.

General Cyberbullying Facts and Statistics

The U.S. has an estimated workforce of around 157 million people. Out of these, an estimated 48.6 million people are bullied either while at work or by someone from their place of work.

That’s 31% of the entire workforce, which is a massive and concerning number.

Cyberbullying among remote workers was prevalent during the pandemic and continues to be a significant problem today. According to a 2021 survey by the Workplace Bullying Institute, remote workers were especially vulnerable to bullying behaviour. In fact, 61.5% of respondents who were remote workers reported being cyberbullied.

Remote workers are often bullied by their supervisors, colleagues, and even subordinates. Most of this bullying takes place over instant messaging, social media, emails, and online meetings.

To further convey the seriousness of the situation, we’ve developed this infographic that displays the data we’ve just covered.

Where it happens

According to the Workplace Bullying Institute, around 50% of cyberbullying happens during online meetings. To break it down further, 35% of meeting-based cyberbullying happens in group meetings, while 15% happens during one-on-one meetings.

Although it’s just as worrisome in the latter scenario, cyberbullying has shown to be more frequent when there’s an audience.

Email is the scene of 9% of cyberbullying. Of this, 6% is in group emails and threads, and 3% is in private emails (communication between only two people).

Email-based cyberbullying can take the form of spreading rumours, sending emails while pretending to be someone else, and even direct verbal abuse. We all know how fast rumours can spread, and while a password manager can help keep email accounts secure, security breaches can occur in other applications and a determined bully can find other ways to impersonate a colleague.

The common culprits

The majority of cyberbullying in the workplace is perpetrated by superiors. The Workplace Bullying Institute survey found that 65% of all cyberbullying is top-down.

People who are higher up in the workplace hierarchy are more likely to exhibit controlling and patronising behaviours toward junior workers. Sometimes this takes the form of cyberbullying. 

21% of cyberbullying happens among colleagues on the same level, while 14% of cyberbullying was found to be bottom-up.

In terms of gender, the Workplace Bullying Institute found that 67% of workplace bullies were men, with women making up the remaining 33% of perpetrators.

While the percentages are skewed in terms of cyberbullying by gender, the same study found that men and women were more likely to bully members of their own gender.

The majority of workplace bullying is perpetrated by individuals. Research shows that 72% of bullying in the workplace was committed by lone perpetrators. In contrast, only 28% involved more than one bully.

What’s interesting about cyberbullies is that many aggressors will admit to it. In fact, 6.3% of remote workers admit to bullying someone at work.

What’s worrying is how few culprits actually face the consequences for their actions. It’s reported that only 23% of cases result in the bullies facing negative consequences. Out of these, the bully is fired 9% of the time. In 11% of cases, the bully is reprimanded but kept on board. However, in 3% of cases, the perpetrator quits voluntarily.

The common targets

One survey showed that 33.9% of workers between the ages of 25 and 31 were cyberbullied. This makes them the most common age group to be bullied. 

Employees of increasing age were found to be progressively less likely to report cyberbullying. However, this doesn’t mean that a person’s chances of being cyberbullied decrease with age, since younger people make up the bulk of the modern workforce.

Bullying is rife in the remote workplace. Of remote workers, 43.2% admit to being cyberbullied. This is significantly higher than the 30% national average of U.S. adults who report being bullied in either hybrid or non-remote workplaces.

The same study found a link between people of certain ethnicities and increased cyberbullying. 

According to the study, 35% of Hispanic workers reported being bullied, while 26.3% of African Americans and 30% of Caucasians reported the same. The rate of Caucasians bullied, at 30%, is equal to the national average.

How Cyberbullying Affects Working People

Although it may seem trivial compared to in-person bullying, cyberbullying is a serious cause for concern.

Even in today’s accepting and inclusive workplace climate where mental health support is plentiful, cyberbullying can have a significant adverse effect.

A Computers in Human Behaviors report found major connections between cyberbullying and negative mental health issues. And we know that mental health affects physical health if left unchecked.

The common effects of cyberbullying on mental health include:

  • Anxiety
  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Panic attacks
  • Skin diseases
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Fibromyalgia

On top of this, a study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research found that working people aged 25 and younger were twice as likely to develop and exhibit suicidal tendencies as their older counterparts.

The result of all this bullying is as varied as the channels and forms of bullying itself.

In 67% of cases, the target of cyberbullying ends up leaving their current job. Among these cases, 17% of targets are forced to leave by upper management, while 15% are transferred somewhere else. In 23% of cases the target leaves voluntarily, and 12% of targets are simply fired.

More often than not, workplace cyberbullying has a negative outcome for the target, while the perpetrator may or may not face consequences. It’s important for companies to take a proactive approach to combating cyberbullying — and rather than terminating or failing to prevent the exit of the victim, reprimand or even fire the aggressor.

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