Cyber-aggression in the workplace

Cyber-aggression or cyber-harassment can be best described in the words of Whitty and Carr: “Takes the form of obscene or hate e-mail/text messages that threaten or frighten, or e-mails/text messages that contain offensive content, such as sexist or racist material. What is unique about this type of workplace harassment, compared to more traditional forms of harassment, is that this material can be sent by people in addition to work colleagues, by other individuals outside the workplace (either known or not known to the person) or even in the form of spam.” (Whitty & Carr 252)

What many do not realize that the phenomenon of cyber-bullying often associated with teenage culture has spread to the workplace in a variety of ways. While this trend is seemingly silent and slow growing, its effects are considered equally hurtful as any form of harassment.



Oftentimes, cyber-aggression is the result of individuals in a workplace being offended/upset/or feeling threatened by organizational problems. They then resort to virtual communication as a form of retaliation. These actions are referred to as flaming by Whitty & Carr, or essentially when an individual online writes with hostility towards a particular person or group of people.

Instant messaging

In a 2003 article, of Workforce Management magazine the author outlines how instant messaging has become both a help and a hindrance in organizations. The ease of use with instant messaging, is partially to blame, "Employees can see who else is available, and if it’s someone they want to talk to, they’re able to connect in real time" the article explains. While this has become an extremely useful tool in workplace communication, instant messengers such at AIM or MSN Messenger are not easily regulated from a managerial aspect, which leads to employees being able to have private conversations on a public platform. These conversations can foster aggressive talk and lead to potentially hurtful information being spread among an organization. Some argue that instant messages are beneficial to the work process because it can easily resolve problems without having to distract the person via phone and you don’t have to wait for an email response.


This is one of the most prevalent tools used in cyber-aggression because of its prevalence in workplace communications. Oftentimes upset workers send loaded messages and attach the email to a large group of co-workers that are not involved in the issue to bring attention to it. An article from the Travel Trade Gazette give some advice to avoid being aggressive in emails.

  • Always give a clear subject
  • State exactly what you need in a simple manner
  • Avoid terms like ASAP
  • Only use reply all when it refers to the whole group
  • Using all upper case is electronic SHOUTING!
  • Don’t use texting lexicon
  • Never send an email when you are upset

Social networking

This is one of the fastest growing ways that workers can lash out against each other. The opportunity is high for individuals to be aggressive in a highly public and open forum. Many choose to speak out at their co-workers or superiors because it is a way for them to vent their feelings while not having to say these things face to face.


  • Bowie, Vaughn, Bonnie Fisher, and Cary L. Cooper. Workplace Violence Issues, Trends, Strategies. Grand Rapids: Willan (UK), 2005.
  • Cade, Valerie. "Cyber Bullying in the Workplace- When Bullies use technology to launch their attacks." 26 Jan. 2009. 1 May 2009
  • Davis, Richard A. "Psychological Implications of Technology in the Workplace." Editorial. CyberPsychology and Behavior 4 Nov. 2002: 277.
  • Greengard, Samuel. "IM speeds workplace communication, but it can also spell trouble." Workforce Management July 2003: 84-85.
  • Kubicek, Margaret. "Virtual Fighters." Personnel Today 12 Feb. 2008. 1 May 2009.
  • Lacey, Hoda. ""E" is for etiquette when sending emails." Travel Trade Gazette 13 May 2005: 51.
  • "Online Recruitment - Cyber-Bullying in the workplace on the increase." United Kingdom - Online Recruitment Magazine - The magazine for recruitment and HR professionals involved in the UK internet recruitment industry. 27 Sept. 2007. 1 May 2009
  • Sanders, Claire. "Want to tell a lie? Put it in email." The Times Higher Education Supplement 20 Jan. 2007: 1.
  • Whitty, Monica T., and Adrian N. Carr. "New rules in the workplace: Applying object-relations theory to explain problem Internet and email behaviour in the workplace." Computers in Human Behavior 22 (2004): 235-50.

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