WITH the rise in home lone working since COVID-19, as many as 83% of workers affected by cyber abuse state that this has escalated over the period of the pandemic.
During the height of lockdown in April 2020 approximately half the UK working population were by definition lone workers at home, according to a recent survey by the Office for National Statistics. New research by Suzy Lamplugh Trust indicates that around a third of home lone workers surveyed across the UK are currently experiencing some form of online abuse in the workplace. The abuse took the following forms: Cyberbullying (46%), Message Bombing (36%), Trolling (23%), Hacking (16%), Online Sexual harassment or Cyber-Flashing (12%), Digitally Enabled Stalking (11%). The platforms through which online abuse was overwhelmingly perpetrated were Facebook (40%), WhatsApp (36%), and Email (35%), followed by Zoom and Microsoft Teams.
Of the victims of cyber abuse at work, 92% admitted that the abuse impacted their mental health. Respondents reported the following impact of cyber abuse: ‘As life has moved online, it feels far more invasive than previously’, ‘It has been horrible stuck in four walls with this horrible abuse.’
Dr Emma Short, Associate Professor in Psychology at DeMontfort University, has been researching the nature and impact of online abuse for 15 years. She said:
“It’s been established that harm arising from online or abusive communications can be overwhelming, including significant emotional distress, feelings of isolation, anxiety and depression, sometimes initiating physiological harms such as self-harm or suicide. At the current time, if people are restricted to working through digital channels which have become hostile, the sense of ‘no escape’ is amplified. The impact of online harm can go beyond the individuals who directly experience them, creating wider harms in the workplace where other individuals who are witness to intimidating behaviour are silenced and the usual support networks break down.”
Three-quarters of the victims felt that they were being abused based on their personal characteristics, namely gender, race and age. Furthermore, over half the respondents stated that they had received no support from their employer around lone working, such as training and personal safety policies.
Suky Bhaker, CEO of Suzy Lamplugh Trust, said:
“The pandemic has caused a dramatic shift to online lone working at home. Our report demonstrates that this has led to a startling increase in cyber abuse in the workplace, which is highly concerning and is having a detrimental effect on the mental health of many employees. The responsibility for a worker’s personal online safety lies threefold between the employer, the employee and the online platforms they use. We have therefore issued safety tips for workers experiencing online abuse at work, along with guidance for employers to safeguard their staff, and recommendations for online platforms to implement best practice. As we enter a second lockdown, it’s imperative that we pull together to protect the cyber safety of our workers.”
With a drastic shift in our working lives, better guidelines need to be implemented in order to best safeguard privacy and safety whilst working. Online abuse must never be accepted as ‘part of the job’. Employers, employees and online social media and communication platforms all hold responsibility in assuring the cyber safety of the worker.
For further information read the full report on the Suzy Lamplugh Trust website: https://www.suzylamplugh.org