Workplace bullying data from Denmark

In occupational health and safety (OHS) and other workplace research, Scandinavia is often quoted.   The application of research findings to other nations is of dubious value but often Scandinavian research provides clues to potential OHS hazards or control options.

In February 2010, the European Working Conditions Observatory published online a research report into workplace bullying.  The report says

“Investigating the impact of bullying on psychological stress reactions according to the Impact of Event Scale, the NFA study finds that negative acts which potentially isolate the individual at the workplace, acts directed towards the person and unreasonable workloads induce most psychological stress.”

A news item by the European Trade Union Institute summarises the statistics of the research:

“10.8% of the respondents to a Danish survey reported to have been subject to bullying.  Some 1.4% of the respondents experience bullying at least once a week, while 9.4% experience it occasionally.  Furthermore, 26.5% of the 3,363 workers who took part in the survey reported to have witnessed bullying at their workplace.  The results of the survey, which was carried out between 2006 and 2008 in 60 companies, were published last September in a study aimed at investigating physiological and mental health effects of bullying.

The study confirms that bullying leads to sleep disorders and symptoms of severe stress among victims.  …. negative behaviour in the workplace is very common, with 79.5% of the respondents being exposed at least sometimes to work-related negative acts.

… The study confirms that the degree to which bullying is experienced as being disturbing is closely related to exposure frequency.”

It is important to note that the report says “the survey population is not fully representative of the Danish workforce.”

Also, the definition of bullying that the researchers use is very important in determining consistency of research across different jurisdictions.  The definition for this study is not readily accessible.

The Danish study ” recognises that bullying:

  • may arise from a poor work climate;
  • may occur if conflicts are allowed to escalate;
  • is closely related to negative behaviour in the workplace in general;
  • describes a social situation implicating a ‘bully’, a ‘victim’ and ‘witnesses’.”

This clearly places bullying in the areas of workplace culture, human resources, conflict resolution and the prevention of psychosocial hazards at work.  Obviously prevention will require a coordinated approach across several managerial disciplines.

Some of the research findings are echoed elsewhere.  Psychiatric News has a 2006 US report, for instance.  Curiously in that report, victims of bullying are recommended to leave that workplace.

“… looking for a position in another organization is often the best solution, Gold advised, because if bullying is tolerated in the person’s workplace, then “there is a culture there that supports it,” and it is highly unlikely that such a culture can be detoxified.” (link added)

This eliminates the hazard  for one worker (but probably not the damage) but does nothing for the remaining workers in a toxic workplace.  If this action is chosen, it is also recommended that the OHS authority in that jurisdiction be notified so that the suffering of others may be reduced.

That workplaces cannot be “detoxified” challenges many of the cultural change advocates and reinforces that the best workplace cultures exist from the start of a business.

Kevin Jones

reservoir, victoria, australia

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