Cyber abuse damaging for many workplaces

By Sidah Russell

Cyber abuse damaging for many workplaces

The newest member of Massey’s Healthy Work Group is tackling a pervasive problem in many workplaces – how to deal with cyber abuse.

Dr Natalia D’Souza, who graduated with her PhD last year, wrote her thesis on workplace cyberbullying in nursing. She found that nurses experience bullying not only by other staff, but also by patients and their families.

During the process of interviewing victims, she heard some appalling stories.

“I was told about one case where a nurse was being bullied by a patient’s mother, and the mother used her son to gain access. She would call to ask for help for her son, but then start abusing the nurse, but the nurse was hesitant to block the calls in case it was a genuine emergency.”

Despite the well-documented problems with bullying in the health sector, Dr D’Souza realised that the factors that make cyberbullying so damaging apply to just about any organisation.

Since joining Massey’s School of Management as a lecturer, she has broadened her research focus to include all forms of cyber abuse in organisations. She recently produced a report for online safety organisation Netsafe about the prevalence of workplace cyber abuse and the barriers to reporting it.

“I found that nearly half of targets experienced multiple forms of cyber abuse, including cyberbullying, cyber discrimination, cyber stalking and cyber sexual harassment, and that really increases the harm,” she says.

Cyber abuse also has some additional impacts when compared to face-to-face bullying and abuse. Dr D’Souza found that, in 66 per cent of cases, the cyber abuse occurred in a public forum, including on social media, and one-third of incidents were perpetrated anonymously.

“We really need more research on what can be done when the perpetrator can’t be identified because organisations tend to deal with workplace bullying through mediation. That doesn’t work with anonymous cyber abuse.”

Dr D’Souza says her most worrying finding was that over three-quarters of those surveyed said they had not reported the cyber abuse to their organisations. And of those who had reported abuse, more than one-fifth found there was no organisational response.

“We know that a lot of organisations actually don’t have any policies around this stuff, and when they do intervene it’s often with mediation or counselling, which does not always address the underlying issues.”

Survey respondents said being able to block the abuse was the most useful response, while organisational policies and interventions were ranked as the least useful.

“That should give organisations some food for thought,” Dr D’Souza says, “as either there are no cyber abuse policies in place, or employees don’t trust that organisations will be able to do anything about it if they report an incident.”