When most people think of cyberbullying, they think of school settings involving children and teenagers, while scenarios involving adults are often overlooked. This is a major oversight since cyberbullying is also a serious problem among internet users in higher education centers and the workplace.
With the pandemic normalizing remote work, and many organizations and institutions embracing a digital space over brick-and-mortar, cyberbullying has become an even bigger issue among all age groups.
Cyberbullying in the Workplace
Today many desk workers are stationed in a home office. But this physical separation from colleagues has not relieved interpersonal tensions or cured toxic work environments. Instead, cyberbullying has increased 57% from 2017 to 2022, according to a study by Purdue University.
The term “cyberbullying” was coined in 2004 and refers to the repeated use of disturbing, vulgar, or derogatory language or imagery in electronic media. It’s intended to hurt, threaten, humiliate, or discriminate against an individual who cannot easily defend themself.
Cyberbullying can go as far as sexual harassment, threats of physical harm, or publicly disclosing personal information, called doxing.
Victims of cyberbullying can’t simply do a memory wipe after they get home and forget all about it. The psychological impact and real-life consequences of cyberbullying are serious.
A report published by Computers in Human Behavior links workplace cyberbullying to these health-related negative effects:
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Panic attacks
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Skin problems
Let’s look at 15 statistics that you need to know about cyberbullying in the workplace so you can understand its magnitude, identify it, and stop it.
1. Over 30% of the American workforce experiences bullying (Source)
An estimated 48.6 million Americans are bullied at work. With a workforce of 157 million employees, that’s 31% of working adults.
However, in many work environments bullying is dismissed by supervisors as a routine aspect of a business atmosphere. Some even support it, believing that it fuels competitiveness and motivates managers. In reality, bullying damages productivity, increases turnover, and stifles creativity.
Some of the psychological effects of cyberbullying in the workplace include:
- Increased stress
- Decreased performance
- Emotional problems
- Reduced job satisfaction
- Reduced mental and physical well-being
All of this leads to an employee needlessly performing worse than their peers.
More importantly, it results in a lot of lost potential from working people who might otherwise be very valuable members of the workforce.
2. 61.5% of remote workers have been affected by cyberbullying (Source)
The percentage of remote workers who have either witnessed or been the target of cyberbullying is 61.5%, according to a 2021 survey by the Workplace Bullying Institute.
This includes aggression by colleagues, subordinates, or supervisors over instant messaging, social media, email, text messaging, or online meetings.
3. 65% of bullying is top-down (Source)
People who are higher in an established power structure are more likely to bully those who are lower in the chain of command. Those who are more powerful in the hierarchy may abuse their power to dominate, exhaust, or torment their subordinates.
The Workplace Bullying Institute survey shows that 65% of bullying is top-down, 14% is bottom-up, and 21% happens among colleagues who are on the same level of the hierarchy.
4. 50% of cyberbullying occurs in meetings (Source)
According to the Workplace Bullying Institute survey, 61.5% of remote workers have experienced cyberbullying at work. While instant messaging apps and social media platforms like SnapChat and TikTok are the medium for some workplace bullying, 50% of it happens during virtual meetings.
Research shows that 15% of all online bullying happens in one-on-one virtual meetings, while 35% of it takes place during group meetings.
While bullying in private meetings is a serious problem, it’s much more likely to happen with an audience — targeting and humiliating a worker in front of their colleagues, supervisors, or subordinates.
5. 67% of workplace bullies are men, and 33% are women (Source)
Males are about twice as likely to be workplace bullies than females, according to data from 2021. Two thirds of perpetrators of bullying in a work environment, whether traditional or virtual, are men. The other third of bullies is women.
6. Male and female bullies are more likely to target their own gender (Source)
In 58% of cases, male bullies target other males, and 42% of their assaults are targeted at women.
Likewise, female bullies are more likely to target their own gender, but the scales are tipped much further. Data shows 65% of workplace bullying by females is directed at other women, while in 35% of cases the bullying is aimed at men.
7. Emails are the medium for 9% of cyberbullying (Source)
Research shows that 9% of cyberbullying happens in emails. This includes group conversations where multiple peers or supervisors are included in the email (6% of all cyberbullying) and private emails (3%).
Cyberbullying through email can include direct verbal abuse as well as more subtle methods, including:
- Making others feel like they aren’t part of the team
- Spreading rumors
- Hacking into someone’s account
- Sending messages while pretending to be the target
Sending emails using someone else’s account is generally intended to get the target in trouble, while the bully walks away looking better. This form of professional sabotage hurts not only the individuals who are directly involved, but also the entire organization in terms of performance and job satisfaction.
For a team to be healthy, boundaries must be respected and all team members must be treated positively.
8. Workers aged 25-31 are most common targets of cyberbullies, at 33.9% (Source)
Surveys show that of workers who are targeted by cyberbullying, the largest segment is aged 25-31 at 33.9%. The next largest segment is workers aged 32-38 at 29.3%.
Older and younger workers compose smaller percentages, with employees between age 18 and 24 being the target of cyberbullying in 9.6% of cases. Workers aged 39-45 are the targets of 19.9% of cyberbullying, and employees over age 46 are the target in 7.2% of cases.
However, this data doesn’t necessarily mean a worker is more or less likely to be the target of cyberbullies due to their age, since employees in different age brackets make up different percentages of the workforce.
9. 72% of workplace bullying is committed by a lone perpetrator, and 28% involves multiple bullies (Source)
Nearly three out of four instances of workplace bullying are the act of a single aggressor, while the remaining occurrences are attacks from a group of colleagues who gang up on the target.
When bullying is perpetrated by a group, the group is most often composed of individuals of the same rank. Only 6% of all group bullying, or mobbing, is committed by a group with varied ranks. And only 2% involves a group of bullies that includes all three: bosses, peers, and subordinates.
10. 43.2% of remote workers have been cyberbullied, and 6.3% of remote workers admit to cyberbullying a colleague (Source)
According to the survey by the Workplace Bullying Institute, of employed remote working Americans, 43.2% have been a bully’s target. This is a significant increase over the national 30% rate of adults who are bullied in the workplace.
Of all remote workers, 18.3% have witnessed cyberbullying, and 5.3% believe that it happens but haven’t seen it or been directly involved in it. Additionally, 16.9% of remote employees report being unaware of workplace bullying.
11. 6.3% of remote workers admit that they have cyberbullied someone at work (Source)
While the percentage of remote workers who are bullies may seem low, roughly one in 16 have targeted a colleague with bullying behavior at least once.
This means that even small and medium-sized remote teams are likely environments for cyberbullying to occur.
12. 35% of Hispanics report being bullied in the workplace, higher than the national average of 30% (Source)
Hispanics report being bullying victims in the workplace at a rate of 35%. Caucasians report at a rate of 30% (equal to the national average), African Americans report at a rate of 26.3%, and Asian Americans report at a rate of 11.7%.
However, the lower rates among Asian Americans doesn’t necessarily mean they are bullied at less than half the rate of African Americans. The report by the Workplace Bullying Institute noted that bullying statistics may be under-reported by this group.
Hispanics were more likely to admit being the perpetrator of workplace bullying at 5.9%, while 4.1% of African Americans admitted it, followed by 3.7% of Caucasians and 2.5% of Asian Americans.
When it comes to the percentage of workers who are aware of bullying in their workplace (believers and bullies, witnesses, and bullied targets), here is the breakdown:
- Hispanics: 80%
- Caucasians: 75%
- African Americans: 68%
- Asian Americans: 57%
It’s unclear what causes the increased lack of awareness among specific groups, Asian Americans in this case. However, once again, it doesn’t mean that any groups are objectively bullied any less.
13. People aged 25 and under who have been cyberbullied are more than twice as likely to engage in self-harm or suicidal behaviors (Source)
While this comprehensive study by Swansea University included children as well as adults aged 25 and younger who are beginning their careers, it points to the seriousness of cyberbullying.
Stopping cyberbullying in the workplace isn’t merely about improving the work environment and increasing productivity — it can be a matter of life and death, particularly for younger employees.
14. Cyberbullies aged 25 and younger are 20% more likely to exhibit suicidal behavior and ideation (Source)
The targets of cyberbullying in the workplace aren’t the only people whose mental health should be considered when this behavior occurs. Research shows that cyberbullies often are at dire risk themselves.
People aged 25 and younger who engage in cyberbullying are 20% more likely to show suicidal behavior or ideation than their peers. In many cases aggressive and abusive online behavior is a sign of much more serious problems.
It’s important for companies to get to the root of cyberbullying when it occurs — for the well-being of the target as well as the perpetrator.
15. In 67% of cases, workplace bullying ends with the target leaving their job, while in only 23% of cases does the perpetrator face consequences (Source)
Overwhelmingly, bullying in the workplace is resolved in a way that’s detrimental to the target, while it rarely ends in a negative way for the bully. This includes both cyberbullying and traditional workplace bullying.
In 67% of cases, the target is fired (12%), transferred (15%), forced to quit (17%), or quits voluntarily (23%). In 12% of cases, the bullying continues.
In only 9% of cases is the perpetrator terminated, in 11% of cases the aggressor is punished but keeps their job, and in 3% of cases the perpetrator quits voluntarily.
It’s even more rare that bullying is stopped by positive actions of the employer (6%) or coworkers (2%).
Before we get to cyberbullying statistics among elementary aged children, high schoolers, and college students, here’s an infographic that further explains the data we’ve just covered:
Cyberbullying Among Elementary-Aged Children
Despite cyberbullying laws and ongoing efforts to improve internet safety for children, cyberbullying is prevalent among preteens who play online video games, visit chat rooms, and use smartphones.
In fact, cyberbullying cases in K-12 schools have increased 200% over the past decade, from 16% of students reporting being the target of cyberbullying in the 2019-20 school year compared to 8% in the 2009-10 school year. This is according to a 2022 report filed by the National Center for Education Statistics.
Elementary school children are especially vulnerable due to a lack of coping mechanisms that come with age.
Here are the primary cyberbullying stats for elementary-aged children.
16. 23% of elementary students admitted to saying or doing something ‘mean’ to other students online (Source)
Data from MediaSmarts shows that 23% of young children admitted to cyberbullying their peers. Conversely, 37% of kids surveyed reported that a fellow student said something mean or cruel to them online.
17. 20.9% of adolescents have had some experience with cyberbullying (Source)
According to a report from 2020, roughly one in five children aged 9 to 12 have experienced (14.5%), perpetrated (3.2%), or witnessed (14.9%) cyberbullying.
18. Bullying is less common online (14.5%) than it is at school (49.8%) among kids aged 9 to 12 (Source)
Among elementary students aged 9 to 12, 49.8% of those surveyed reported being the target of face-to-face school bullying. Conversely, 14.5% reported being the target of cyberbullying.
19. More than 2/3 of tweens who have been cyberbullied report feeling worse about themselves (Source)
Over two out of three students aged 9 to 12 reported that being the target of cyberbullying negatively affected the way they feel about themselves. Of those, 13.1% reported it impacted their physical health and 6.5% said it affected their schoolwork.
20. 1 in 5 children surveyed experience mental health issues caused by cyberbullying (Source)
The CDC reports that 20% of all children experience mental health issues and trauma stemming from cyberbullying. This can result in anxiety, depression, lower academic achievement, and sleep difficulties. Perhaps more concerning, it’s estimated that only around 20% of those affected ever receive the required help.
Cyberbullying Among Teens and High School Students
The total number of people targeted by cyberbullying is sharply increasing, rising from 18.8% in 2007 to 45.5% in 2021, according to a report by the Cyberbullying Research Center. Among these, high school students and young people aged 12-18 are frequently targeted.
Let’s look at the cyberbullying statistics among teens and high school students.
21. About 35.5% of high school students in the U.S. are cyberbullied (Source)
According to a 2022 report from Statista, more than one-third of high school students in the U.S. reported being the target of bullying in online spaces.
These include discussion forums, social media, and online messaging platforms, and comments sections.
22. 41% of bullied teens expect to be bullied again (Source)
Unfortunately, online bullying among U.S. teens is rarely a one-time occurrence. According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, 41% of 12 to 18-year-olds who have been the target of bullying said they expect to be bullied again.
23. Mean comments (24.9%) and fake rumors (22.2%) are the leading forms of cyberbullying among teens (Source)
According to a 2019 national survey of middle and high school students aged 12 to 17, the most common forms of bullying were hurtful or mean comments and false rumors spread online.
An additional 30% experienced miscellaneous forms of online harassment including threats, racism, or attacks based on their appearance, religion, or identity.
24. 61% of teens report being cyberbullied for their appearance (Source)
Research shows the leading focus of cyberbullying among teens is their physical appearance, at 61%. A much smaller portion of 25% said that their academic achievements were the cause of the bullying.
On the other hand, 17% and 15% of those surveyed reported race and sexuality respectively as the focus. Religion was the target in 15% of cases. The remaining 20% of respondents reported that miscellaneous factors were the target of the cyberbullying occurrences.
25. 22.6% of teens reported being cyberbullied within the last 30 days (Source)
A survey on cyberbullying conducted during the pandemic found 22.6% of teens had been bullied online within the past month. These numbers are up from 17.2% in 2019 and 16.7% in 2016. In addition, self-reporting of bullying declined from 6.6% in 2019 to 4.9% in 2021.
Experts believe these changes are because young people were spending more time online due to the limitations of the pandemic.
26. 42% of LGBTQ teens reported being cyberbullied in the past year (Source)
In 2021, The Trevor Project reported that 42% of middle and high school students who identify as LGBTQ had been bullied electronically during the past year. This includes online and via text message.
In schools that are LGBTQ-affirming, bullying in general was found to be 10% lower than in schools that were not LGBTQ-affirming, with 44% reporting bullying in the past year in the former versus 54% in the latter.
27. 25% of bullied LGBTQ students attempted suicide at least once in the past year (Source)
Bullying of all kinds, including cyberbullying, often drives students to attempt self-harm and suicide. According to the Trevor Project’s 2021 research on mental health issues among LGBTQ youth, around 25% of middle and high school students identifying as LGBTQ who were bullied attempted suicide at least once in the past year.
For comparison, the percentage of LGBTQ teens who attempted suicide but did not report being bullied was 10%.
28. Female teens are almost 3X as likely to be cyberbullied than males (Source)
According to a 2019 report by the Digest of Education statistics, 22.4% of female students reported being bullied online or via text, compared to 7.6% of male students.
29. 23% of teens said they were bullied within the past month (Source)
The Cyberbullying Research Center found that 23% of teens were cyberbullied at some point during the last 30 days. On top of that, 45.5% said they were cyberbullied at some point in their life (extending to before high school).
There was also a massive increase in the number of cyberbullying targets among high school students. The number is up 55% from just 2015, and has almost tripled since 2007.
Once again, the number of self-reporting offenders is lower, with just 6% of students admitting to having cyberbullied their peers within the last 30 days. However, the number of self-reporting teens was higher (16%) among those who admitted to having cyberbullied someone at some point in their lives.
30. 22.5% of teens report being threatened via call or text (Source)
Cyberbullying can take many forms and covers a wide range of negative behaviors, including threats. According to a 2021 report by the Cyberbullying Research Center, 22.5% of high school students reported having received threats via phone call or text. These mostly consisted of threats of physical harm.
A similar number (22.1%) of teens reported being threatened on online forums outside of calls and texts.
Cyberbullying Among College Students and Young Adults
While the minds of college students and young adults are relatively more developed than those of teens and tweens, cyberbullying can still have a tremendous negative impact on them.
This is especially true among college students, who are not much older than high school seniors and display similar behaviors in terms of online bullying.
Let’s take a look at the main statistics for cyberbullying among college students and young adults.
31. 41% of young adults have experienced some form of harassment online (Source)
The Pew Research Center stated in their 2021 State of Online Harassment report that around 41% of young adults in the U.S. had experienced some form of online harassment in their lifetime.
This harassment took several major forms, with 31% reporting negative and offensive name-calling on online forums and 26% reporting being embarrassed publicly on purpose.
There were more serious forms of online harassment too, although they were reported by a smaller number of people. Cyberstalking and sexual harassment were both reported by 11% of respondents, while threats of physical harm were reported by 14%.
32. Young adults aged 18-29 are most likely to have experienced online harassment (Source)
According to the Pew Research report, the young adult age demographic of 18-29 experienced by far the highest percentage of online harassment of any age group in the U.S., at 64%.
Among other age groups, 49% of respondents aged 30-49, and 30% of those aged 50-64, and 21% of respondents aged 65+ reported the same.
33. 36% of young adults reduced online activity as a result of cyberbullying (Source)
According to Statista, 36% of young adults reduced their online activity as a result of experiencing cyberbullying.
In addition, 25% reported feeling uneasy and having trouble concentrating or sleeping. Even more concerning, 11% of the surveyed young adults reported experiencing depressive or suicidal thoughts.
The prevalence of depressive thoughts among those who experience cyberbullying is a serious concern. A 2022 report from the National Center for Education Statistics links cyberbullying to a wide range of violent activities in educational institutions, including school shootings.
34. College students with disabilities are at higher risk for being a target of cyberbullying than their peers (Source)
For college students with disabilities, a study by Clemson University found that they are more likely to be targeted by cyberbullies and trolls. Predictors of becoming a target include whether they are also targets of traditional bullying, their level of internet use, and how noticeable their disability is.
Typical outcomes of cyberbullying, like depression and low self-esteem, have been found to be more pronounced in college students with disabilities.
35. College students who are cyberbullied during the fall semester are more likely to become cyberbullies in the spring semester, but not vice versa (Source)
A study by Quinnipiac University in Connecticut found that college students who were a target of cyberbullying in the fall semester (at least once per month for six months) were more likely to engage in cyberbullying behavior themselves the following semester.
However, engaging in cyberbullying behavior during the fall semester was not a predictor of becoming a target the following semester.
In total, 46.4% of respondents reported being the target of cyberbullying in the fall semester and 42.9% in the spring semester. However, 23.7% admitted to being the perpetrator of cyberbullying in the fall semester while 13.2% admitted to it in the spring semester.
How to Address Cyberbullying in the Workplace
While cyberbullying among adolescents, teens, and college students is deeply concerning, let’s take a closer look at what cyberbullying looks like among adults in the workplace and how we can address it. Data reveals disturbing trends in the way companies generally address cyberbullying, in that it’s usually the innocent party that pays the price.
The importance of dealing with workplace cyberbullying as soon as it starts cannot be understated. And it will take more than removing the Caps Lock key on their keyboard to keep them from “shouting” at their coworkers.
To stop cyberbullying in the workplace, it must first be identified. Here are some common characteristics of a toxic coworker:
- Rude and disrespectful
- Confrontational and aggressive
- Blame others for their mistakes
- Act like they know everything
- Frequently use sarcasm and ridicule
- Frequently use negative language
- Controlling attitude
- Use negative body language and gestures
- Establish expectations upfront
- Have well-written and communicated policies against cyberbullying
- Provide training for staff and leadership
- Establish an open environment for addressing cyberbullying
- Address any claims about cyberbullying immediately
And here are some ways targets can take agency in the fight against cyberbullying:
- Keep calm and refrain from responding immediately
- Document all harassments
- Report the behavior to your employer
- Block the bully’s communication efforts
- Find external support, for example with a social worker or psychologist
- Contact the police if the cyberbully goes as far as sexual harassment, threats of physical violence, or stalking
Where Do We Go From Here?
With numerous workplaces deciding to remain remote, it’s important to establish clear guidelines against cyberbullying. No matter the situation, cyberbullying should not be tolerated.
To create a healthy and socially mature work environment, regular training sessions and reflective conversations are powerful means to prevent things from getting out of hand.
The more they can understand the intricacies of one another’s role, and get to know each other as humans rather than an avatar on their screen, it can be easier to see how bullying is harmful to individuals and the team as a whole.
Workplaces are often stressful, and sometimes that stress is taken out on colleagues in abusive ways. By reflecting on and talking about feelings and experiences, it’s possible not only to release the tension, but also for workplace bullies to identify their behavior and work to change it.
However, in cases where bullying cannot be resolved, it’s important that the aggressor — not the target — is the one who receives disciplinary action or dismissal.