Workplace bullying has varying prevalence around the world. Just 7-8% of employees in France reported experiencing bullying 2005, compared to 45% of Japanese employees (2012). Workplace bullying is a complex issue, shaped by cultural attitudes and social norms, and continues despite its proven deleterious effects on both workers and the economy.
In the study, which was published in Trends in Psychology, researchers from Brazil and Spain looked at the prevalence and nature of workplace bullying among urban transport workers in South Brazil, using the Workplace Bullying Scale (ELAM) and self-reporting to identify victims.
The results of the study, comprising 382 workers across a variety of positions and hierarchical levels, show that 33.7% of workers reported experiencing frequent (“often”) or persistent (“always”) bullying at work, with roughly 27% of harassers being the direct boss, 24% coworkers, and 17% other agents, like passengers or representatives from other companies.
Most interestingly, 33.7% of workers self-identified as victims of workplace bullying, while the ELAM scores listed 48.6% of workers as victims, based on “often” or “always” responses in the three categories of Working conditions, Humiliation and Prejudice. This highlights an opportunity for further research to understand how attitudes regarding workplace conduct mediate consequences of bullying.
That victims don’t always see themselves as such doesn’t necessarily mean they experience fewer of workplace bullying’s well-known negative outcomes, including illness, negative psychological symptoms, loss of productivity or increased employee turnover.
The study also revealed that direct bosses were the most common source of bullying, and that when this occurred, it tended to be felt more deeply than when coming from colleagues or other sources. Additionally, those who reported seeing bullying at work also had a higher tendency of being bullied, perhaps because those who are bullied more frequently (or feel they are) are more likely to consider certain behaviors as such. As the authors note, it may also be an indication of collective bullying.
Additional factors also mediated the experience of workplace bullying. Those with longer hours tended to experience bullying more frequently, possibly because higher positions usually correlate with fewer hours. This was also true of working with the public and handling money, which lends support to this theory.
The authors conclude that organizations need to develop management policies and practices that reduce workplace bullying, although it would also be prudent for external bodies to oversee that this is done correctly, given that direct bosses were most strongly implicated in workplace bullying. Putting this responsibility in the hands of the greatest perpetrators is questionable, which is no doubt why the authors also invoke the role of unions.
The present study, “Workplace Bullying: a Study on Urban Collective Transportation”, highlights some of the mediating factors of workplace bullying, identifying opportunities for intervention at multiple levels.