Workplace bullying: a new health risk at work?
Dept. of Sociology Trinity College Dublin Dublin, Ireland
Workplace bullying has been established as a significant issue for contemporary organisations, with prevalence ranging from approximately 8-10% of workers across Europe. Part of the mounting attention given to workplace bullying can be understood in light of the increasing consideration, particularly from the EU, of the risks posed by the workplace on the total well-being of workers, for example, the issue of work-related stress.
Since at least the 1989 European Directive, health and safety issues have gained new impetus amid concerns about a potential 'race to the bottom' and referred to 'every' aspect related to work, therefore including psychological, as well as physical, impact of work. Research has found that lower skilled workers and those on non-standard contracts are more at risk from physical dangers at work (Bendavides & Benach, 1999; Guadalope, 2002); a key research question therefore relates to factors associated with the 'new' health risks at work, including workplace bullying.
Workplace bullying is often perceived as an interpersonal conflict and not a ?normal? industrial relations issue and is often dealt with through non-legislative mechanisms including mediation. However, this paper argues that it is imperative to situate complaints about workplace bullying against the backdrop of organisational restructuring and change, as well as the displacement of collective disputes by individual grievances (Bacon & Storey, 2000): it may be possible to conceive bullying as a new ?signifier of distress? (McCarthy, 2003) used by employees in order to limit the scale of pressures exerted by management (Lee, 2000). Recent research highlights the relationship between factors like job intensification and organisational change and bullying (Hoel & Salin, 2003; O?Connell & Williams, 2002). Another key finding from Ireland, and elsewhere in Europe, is that somewhat counter-intuitively, those working in the public sector and those with higher education levels are more likely to report bullying. Given that the public sector is more often associated with better working conditions and employment protection, this runs somewhat against the grain.
This paper explores these research questions using a cross-sectional, nationally representative survey of workers in Ireland conducted in 2007, specifically addressing the issue of workplace bullying.