Embarrassing photos from work events and online gossip posted on the internet are contributing to a hike in workplace cyber-bullying, a new survey has found.

The survey, carried out by internet security company AVG Technologies in January, found the misuse of social media often has a negative effect on employee privacy, forcing many to switch off or limit their use of social networking sites.

It involved 4000 adults from 10 countries, including more than 400 from New Zealand.

One in 10 respondents discovered secret discussions about them online were initiated by colleagues using social media, and embarrassing photos of 9 per cent from work events had been uploaded onto social media sites.


A small number of New Zealand adults surveyed (4 per cent) even found themselves subjected to unwanted romantic advances through online media. In the US this number rose to one in 10 of all adults surveyed.

Cyber bullying occurs "wherever there's bullying and technology", and including workplaces, said Netsafe executive director Martin Cocker.

Sometimes colleagues used technology to avoid face-to-face conversations, which could lead to conflict, he said.

As the use of social media increases, the privacy many workers valued was diminishing through employee misuse and cyber-bullying, AVG security advisor Michael McKinnon said.

To prevent personal information from being circulated at work, many were turning away from social media altogether.

Of those that agreed social media had eroded their privacy at work, nearly 20 per cent avoided posting on social networks that have caused them privacy concerns, while 22 per cent limited their posts.

More than half (58 per cent) were more careful about what they post.

"This study highlights the need for a combination of greater education around social media alongside increased attention and care by both employees and employers to their social media etiquette at work," Mr McKinnon said.


"And we're not just talking about employees remaining responsible for what they post online on social networks and ensuring it is not bringing themselves or their company into disrepute or harming their colleagues; employers can trip themselves up just as easily when managing the company's own social media presence.

"Until everyone is clear about exactly what is and isn't acceptable online behaviour, trying to enforce policies will just fail, leaving the door open to cyber-bullying and invasion of privacy."

A lot of cyber bullying extended from content people created themselves, said Mr Cocker who warned people to be wary of what they put online including in the workplace.

Other key NZ findings include:
* 93 per cent of respondents believed that sending unpleasant or defamatory remarks to or about a colleague using digital communications constituted cyber-bullying. Other forms of cyber-bullying included posting negative comments on a social media site about a colleague's appearance at a work event (90 per cent) and criticising a colleague behind their back through email, instant messaging, social media or SMS (80 per cent)

* Almost one in 10 people had experienced a manager using information from a social media site against them or a colleague

* More than half of respondents admitted they would confront colleagues in person if they felt they were the victim of cyber-bullying

* A fifth of respondents were not protected from cyber-bullying because workplaces did not cover it within existing policies

* Half of those surveyed believed their company was responsible for the online behaviour of employees during work hours if they were using their personal social media accounts