Cyberbullying in the workplace and bystanders

| August 2, 2016

Cyberbullying is a unique form of bullying because it can reach their victims anytime and anywhere. Charmein Madden says it’s important to better understand the role witnesses or bystanders play in the longevity of cyberbullying behaviours.

The escalating use of technology in the workplace has redefined organisational processes and the way in which employees interact with one another. Although beneficial in many ways, technology has altered the social rules which govern the workplace and consequently provided alternative avenues for detrimental behaviours such as cyberbullying to occur.

Cyberbullying is repeated inappropriate, hostile behaviours initiated by a perpetrator via electronic communication (Piotrowski, 2012). Workplace cyberbullying can take the form of unwanted phone calls from the boss, employees spreading rumours about other employee’s online, aggressive emails, employees posting embarrassing photos and videos about another employee on social media, or the withholding of information via email.

Research on workplace cyberbullying is still in progress with most of our present understanding emerging from children and adolescents in the school context. Nevertheless some studies have provided evidence to suggest that cyber victimisation rates among adult employees can range from 10.7% (Privitera & Campbell, 2009) to 18.8% (Lawrence, 2015).

These studies have also reported that workplace cyberbullying like face to face bullying can have a deleterious impact on the physical and mental health of the victim and the overall functioning of an organisation. Victims of cyberbullying often experience bouts of depression, anxiety, stress, low self-esteem and less job satisfaction.  At the organisational level, corporate efficiency and productivity can be negatively affected with increased rates of absenteeism, low staff morale and high staff turnover.

Whilst there may be a number of organisational anti-bullying policies and legislations already in place to safeguard against face to face bullying in the workplace, cyberbullying is a unique form of bullying because it can reach their victims anytime and anywhere via cyber technologies such as mobile phones and the internet. The continuous bullying means that victims are challenged to escape the negative acts even when they are away from work. New interventions must therefore be developed, and one way to achieve this goal is to understand the characteristics attached to the cyberbullying phenomenon.

The characteristic most commonly overlooked is the role witnesses or bystanders play in the longevity of cyberbullying behaviours. Understanding the role of bystanders is essential because their actions and behaviours either active or passive can affect the outcome of the bullying situation.  Moreover, investigating bystander behaviours can provide significant insight into when a bystander is likely or not likely to intervene and help the victim. Further research in this area is therefore needed as a theoretical framework of cyberbullying is not complete or accurate without a thorough understanding of its bystanders (Jones, 2014).

The proposed research

At present there is little-to-no empirical research examining bystander behaviours during cyberbullying episodes in the workplace. It is anticipated that the proposed study will help build a solid base for future research so that factors which impact cyberbullying situations in the work place can be fully examined. Comprehensive knowledge on cyberbullying bystanders will assist organisations develop effective frameworks that encourage group cohesion, increased productivity and a safer work environment for all.

To participate in the survey please click on the following link or paste the link into your browser.

Survey Details

I am looking for participants to complete a survey which comprises of four short workplace cyberbullying scenarios and a series of corresponding questions. The survey takes approximately 12-15 minutes to complete and all information provided remains confidential. Furthermore, no personal information will be collected to identify participants within the results.

Criteria for participation

To ensure the results of the survey are an accurate representation of the research under study, participants must be over 18 years of age and currently employed in a white collar profession or use a computer for a significant part of their working day.



  1. Alan Stevenson

    Alan Stevenson

    October 16, 2016 at 10:59 pm

    Cyber bullying

    I am a 76 year old male and have never been associated with cyber bullying. However, it seems to me that many people sign up to social media in order to increase their number of 'friends'. When I signed up some years ago I received many requests of this kind, most of whom having little or nothing in common with me. After a few weeks I withdrew. On thinking about this episode I have formed the opinion that maybe we should define 'friends' 'acquaintances' and 'associates'. If a friend started to make negative comments about me I would like to think I would take it seriously and look at myself and the way I interact with him/her; if an acquaintance did that I would probably either ignore or drop him/her; if an associate did it I would definitely ignore him/her. As an almost psychologist do you feel that the problem lies entirely with the perpetrator or that it is also partly the reaction of the recipient that is to blame? I feel it would be advantageous to keep this blog going and get other people's ideas on the subject. Cheers, Alan

    • Charmein Madden

      Charmein Madden

      November 1, 2016 at 3:23 am

      Cyberbullying in the workplace and bystanders

      Hi Alan, Thank you for your insightful comments on my research. To answer your question, I do not believe that the problem of workplace cyber bullying lies entirely with the perpetrator. The recipient of the bullying and those who witness the incident can also prolong or intensify the problem by not reporting the act or confronting the bully. That said, consideration has to be given to the underlying factors which prevent cyberbullying recipients from speaking out. Many recipients do not report cyberbullying incidents because they often fear retribution and stigmatisation from other work colleagues, or they worry about how their career will be affected. Along these lines I believe that it is important for organisations to develop rules and procedures which not only target the perpetrator but which also empower recipients and bystanders to report the bullying without fear of reprisal. Alan, I have based my opinion on the research so far, but like you I too would be interested in hearing other people’s point of view on this topic. Regards Charmein

  2. Alan Stevenson

    Alan Stevenson

    October 29, 2016 at 10:55 pm

    Treating bullies

    You and Sue Roffey seem to have a lot in common. I suggested to her that she contact you. Whether she did or not I don't know (her blog is about four after yours). I also suggested she views a very brave woman's action after being bullied ( Good luck. Cheers, Alan

    • Charmein Madden

      Charmein Madden

      November 1, 2016 at 3:36 am

      Cyberbullying in the workplace and bystanders

      Hi Alan, I will certainly find Sue's blog . Thanks for letting me know. Cheers Charmein