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Workplace Phishing Tests: Unpacking the Emotional Damage

Written By Michael Ferrara

Created on 2023-10-19 15:14

Published on 2023-10-19 15:59


In the evolving world of cybersecurity, companies are increasingly implementing phishing tests to bolster their defense mechanisms against cyber threats. These simulated attacks are designed to educate employees on the potential dangers of real-life phishing scams. However, these tests often elicit a range of emotions from employees, from resentment and annoyance to understanding and acceptance. This article delves into ten distinct emotions and quotes from employees who have experienced these tests, offering insights into the complex emotional landscape that surrounds workplace phishing tests.

The Emotional Spectrum of Phishing Tests

The Intersection of Trust and Skepticism

The first emotion we explore is skepticism, a sentiment echoed by young employees who are often cynical about the intentions behind phishing tests. They are wary of the potential bonuses and compensations promised during these tests, reflecting a lack of trust. This skepticism is not unfounded, as phishing tests often mimic real-life scams, leading to a blend of distrust and caution among employees.

"Being part of the younger crowd, we're naturally skeptical, you know? Whenever the higher-ups dangle those 'potential bonuses' and other so-called 'compensations' in front of us, we can't help but raise an eyebrow. Nothing's guaranteed, and we've learned to take these promises with a grain of salt."

The Duality of Resentment and Acceptance

Resentment is another prevalent emotion, stemming from the automatic assumption of employees’ ignorance or carelessness. Seasoned corporate workers might be accustomed to this perception, but newcomers often find it both unexpected and disheartening. This resentment is juxtaposed with acceptance among those who view phishing tests as a necessary evil, a tool to mitigate the potentially catastrophic effects of cyber threats.

"As a newcomer, it's quite a shock to be instantly labeled as ignorant. I didn’t expect to be underestimated right off the bat. I get that the veterans in the corporate world are used to this kind of treatment, but for someone just stepping in, it feels pretty unfair and honestly, it stings a bit."

Balancing Security and Sensitivity

The balance between security and sensitivity is a delicate one. Employees are expected to maturely handle phishing tests, but employers are also called to avoid insensitive and mean test methods. The emotion of feeling attacked or targeted during these tests can lead to a negative atmosphere, undermining the educational intent of the exercises.

“If employees avoided clicking on phishing links and compromising their networks, employers wouldn’t need to conduct tests. Employees should maturely handle tests, and employers should avoid insensitive test methods.”

The Troubling Indifference

Indifference and trivialization of phishing tests are troubling emotions that undermine the gravity of cyber threats. The prevalence of ransomware and identity theft is alarming, yet some employees view phishing tests as minor annoyances rather than significant threats. This indifference underscores the need for enhanced cybersecurity education and awareness.

"Can you believe this? We're drowning in ransomware and identity theft because people can't stop clicking on every shiny link that lands in their inbox. And yet, some folks around here treat phishing tests like they're an annoying fly buzzing around, not the serious threat that they are. It's beyond frustrating; it's downright dangerous."

The Quest for Ethical Phishing Tests

Ethics in phishing tests is a hot topic, with debates surrounding the appropriateness of the methods employed. Some argue for third-party conduction of these tests, advocating for the use of publicly available information to mimic the strategies of real fraudsters. This approach, they believe, would yield more authentic and ethical results.

"With all due respect, it’s high time we bring some ethics into this process. Phishing tests need to be in the hands of third parties, using only the information that’s out in the public domain, just like real fraudsters do. We deserve transparency and fairness. But brace yourselves, because when you peel back the layers, the findings might just take us all by surprise."

Implications and Challenges

The Pleasure and Pain of Testing

One of the complex emotions associated with phishing tests is the suspicion that those who create these tests might derive pleasure from the process. This perception can lead to a disconnect between employees and the cybersecurity team. The intricacy lies in ensuring that these tests, while necessary, are conducted in a manner that is respectful and considerate to employees.

"You know, I can't shake this nagging feeling that the folks cooking up these internal tests are having a little too much fun playing puppeteer. I mean, is it just me, or do they seem to have a knack for this that rivals the actual scammers out there?"

The Business Perspective

From a business standpoint, phishing tests are deemed entirely appropriate. Companies are entities with a primary goal of profitability and sustainability. Employee carelessness that leads to successful phishing attacks can have dire financial and reputational consequences for organizations. Thus, the emotion of acceptance, albeit grudging at times, is prevalent among those who view these tests from a business lens.

"Look, at the end of the day, we’re running a business here. The reality is, a single careless click can have far-reaching consequences for all of us. That’s why phishing tests aren’t just appropriate—they’re essential. We have a responsibility to safeguard the company’s interests, and while we value our employees, the survival and success of the business is the top priority."

The Emotional Boundaries

Phishing tests that touch on sensitive areas such as personal finances or relationships can engender strong emotions of resentment and anger. There is a fine line between effective testing and intrusion into personal boundaries. Striking the right balance is crucial to ensure that the tests serve their educational and preventive purposes without alienating the workforce.

"You know what really grinds my gears? When they start messing with personal stuff – my money, my car, my relationships. That’s crossing a line. I can stomach those annoying phishing tests to an extent, but the second they start poking around my wallet, that’s where I draw the line. It’s not just irritating; it’s downright invasive and unacceptable."

The Ethical Dilemma

The ethical considerations surrounding phishing tests are paramount. While these tests are designed to mimic real-life phishing scams to educate employees, the methods employed must be scrutinized. The emotion of betrayal or being “attacked” stems from tests that are perceived as deceptive or overly intrusive.

"As someone deeply concerned with ethics, I must express my dismay. It's disheartening to witness our own company, which we trust and contribute to, engaging in practices akin to phishing fraud. There's a moral line that should not be crossed, and in my eyes, this is a clear violation. Ethical standards must be upheld, always."

The Path to Reconciliation

The reconciliation between the necessity of phishing tests and the emotions they evoke is a journey. Companies must navigate this path with sensitivity, ensuring that tests are not only technically sound but also ethically and emotionally considerate. The goal is to foster a culture of cybersecurity awareness that is rooted in trust, respect, and collaboration.

"If employees avoided clicking on phishing links and compromising their networks, employers wouldn’t need to conduct tests. Employees should maturely handle tests, and employers should avoid insensitive test methods."


The journey to harmonizing the technical and emotional aspects of phishing tests is intricate but essential. It requires a multifaceted approach that integrates technical excellence, ethical considerations, and emotional intelligence. Every emotion, from skepticism and resentment to acceptance and indifference, offers valuable insights that can be harnessed to enhance the effectiveness and acceptability of phishing tests.

By building a culture of respect, adopting ethical testing practices, empowering employees, facilitating open feedback, and balancing security with sensitivity, organizations can transform phishing tests into powerful tools for cybersecurity enhancement. In this harmonized landscape, phishing tests cease to be sources of emotional turmoil and become catalysts for organizational growth, resilience, and unity in the face of evolving cyber threats.

#CyberSecurity #WorkplaceWellness #PhishingTests

Further Reading

Phishing for Phools: The Economics of Manipulation and Deception by George A. Akerlof and Robert J. Shiller: This book explores the intersection of economics, psychology, and deception, offering insights into how individuals can be manipulated in various economic landscapes, including the workplace. Although not specifically about phishing tests, it provides a broader context to understand the psychological and emotional reactions to deceptive practices, making it a valuable resource for those looking to delve deeper into the complexities of workplace phishing and its emotional repercussions.

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Tech Topics is a newsletter with a focus on contemporary challenges and innovations in the workplace and the broader world of technology. Produced by Boston-based Conceptual Technology (, the articles explore various aspects of professional life, including workplace dynamics, evolving technological trends, job satisfaction, diversity and discrimination issues, and cybersecurity challenges. These themes reflect a keen interest in understanding and navigating the complexities of modern work environments and the ever-changing landscape of technology.

Tech Topics offers a multi-faceted view of the challenges and opportunities at the intersection of technology, work, and life. It prompts readers to think critically about how they interact with technology, both as professionals and as individuals. The publication encourages a holistic approach to understanding these challenges, emphasizing the need for balance, inclusivity, and sustainability in our rapidly changing world. As we navigate this landscape, the insights provided by these articles can serve as valuable guides in our quest to harmonize technology with the human experience.