Workplace Bullying Statistics and Facts

Workplace bullying continues to be a significant problem in Ireland today.   In fact, many workers throughout the world have experienced some form of workplace bullying at some point during their career as evidenced by the research and statistics detailed below.   As far back as 1998 the United Nations International Labor Organisation reported that workplace bullying was one of the fastest growing complaints of workplace violence.  More recently the same organisation has alerted that the issue of workplace bullying is reaching epidemic levels based on the surveyed findings of 15 European Union countries and warned that “violence at work, ranging from bullying and mobbing, to threats by psychologically unstable co-workers, sexual harassment and homicide, (was) increasing worldwide and (had) reached epidemic levels”.

In addition, most organisations are now experiencing ongoing competitive pressures as the fallout from the global financial crisis continues to impact on economies.  This crisis has demanded that businesses engage employees in downsizing, re-structuring, cost-reduction and improvement agendas and other crises which can often precipitate bullying in organisations.  This may well be a factor in increase in the number of complaints referred to the Rights Commissioners, the highest ever recorded in 2010 and that same year, the Employment Appeals Tribunal experienced a 30% increase on the number of claims received.

Several studies have attempted to quantify the impact and cost workplace bullying some of which are referenced below.

  • Leymann (1990), identified through his research that individuals who had experienced bullying in the workplace were at higher risk of becoming depressed, exhibit signs of anxiety and display symptoms similar to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  Mikkelsen and Einarsen (2002) reported that experiences from workplace bullying can be compared to that of losing a loved one due to an unexpected death.
  • In 2002 in a report commissioned by the International Labour Organisation, Hoel, Sparks & Cooper did a comprehensive analysis of the costs involved in bullying.  They estimated a cost of £1.88 billion pounds plus the cost of loss productivity.
  • Based on replacement cost of those who leave as a result of being or witnessing bullying, Rayner and Keashley (2004) estimated that for an organisation of 100 employees, the cost would be $1.2 million. The estimate did not include the cost of litigation should victims bring a claim against their employer.
  • According to the CIPD 2008 “Managing Conflict at Work” report, a workplace conflict can take between 1 day to 10+ days of management time to resolve depending on the type and nature of the conflict.
  • Finally research by Dr. Dan Dana, an international authority on managing interpersonal conflicts in the workplace, has shown organisations suffer large financial cost by not accurately managing conflict and bullying types of behaviours and he has stated that “Unmanaged conflict is the largest reducible cost in organizations today, and the least recognized.“

The bottom line is bullying in the workplace is on the increase and the costs are very high for both employer and employee.  A sample of further research and statistics from home and abroad is provided below for your reference.

Research from Ireland

The ESRI report on “Bullying in the Workplace” (2007) presents the results of two surveys commissioned by the Department of Enterprise Trade and Employment. The first, a survey of individuals at work was designed to ascertain the incidence, correlates and characteristics of bullying in Irish workplaces in 2006-7.  The second was a survey of public and private sector employers, was designed to explore how organisations viewed the problem of bullying in their workplaces.  There were over 3,500 respondents in the worker survey and over 1,600 in the employer survey.  A summary of the results of both surveys are provided below.

Employee Survey

  • 7.9% of participants experienced bullying within the previous 6 months (When grossed up from the sample to the population of all those at work at the time of the survey plus those who had been at work in the six months prior to the survey, this is equivalent to 159,000 individuals)
  • 10.7% of women are more at risk versus 5.8% of men
  • 60% of respondents who experienced workplace bullying considered quitting their jobs
  • Just over 15% report that they actually took this course of action
  • Approximately 20% report that they have taken sick leave directly because of the bullying
  • Over 48% indicated that it has had a negative effect on their life outside work
  • 10% of participants who report having been bullied claim that it has had a very significant detrimental effect on their lives in general
  • The rate of bullying is generally higher in the public sector than in the private sector
  • The larger the organisation, the greater the prevalence of bullying: 4.5% of those working in very small organisations with less than five employees report experiencing bullying in the workplace; 7.1% of those in small organizations; 9.7% of those in medium-sized firms and 10.9% of respondents in large organisations.
  • Workers are at greater risk of experiencing bullying in organisations undergoing change such as a change of manager or supervisor: around 11% report that they had been bullied compared to about 6% of those who had not experienced such change.
  • The vast majority of respondents discussed the matter informally, both inside and outside of work. However, over 50% discussed the bullying with a supervisor and just under 25% referred the matter to the personnel department. Around 20% used a grievance procedure at their place of work while 17% of respondents who experienced bullying in the workplace referred the matter to a trade union or staff association.

Employers Survey

  • Bullying is more likely to be perceived as a problem, be it minor, moderate or major, in the public sector than in the private sector.
  • About 10% of micro organisations (with less than 10 employees) perceive bullying to be a moderate or major problem, the comparable figure for large organisations (with 250 or more staff) is nearly 30%.
  • Bullying by colleagues and by clients is more of a problem than bullying by subordinates or managers – this is particularly true in public sector organisations.
  •  Public sector respondent organisations are more likely to report having a formal policy on workplace bullying operating in their organisations than those in the private sector.
  •  When there is organisational restructuring, technological change and the expansion/reduction of the workforce, over half report that there is a problem with bullying in their organisation; the comparable figure for those who did not report any organizational restructuring is 23%.

The report states the multivariate analysis suggests that the principal determinants of workplace bullying have less to do with the characteristics of the victim, and more to do with the nature and organisation of the workplace. The main exception to this general pattern is that those with higher levels of education are more likely to report bullying. This is consistent with the previous research in Ireland (O’Connell and Williams, 2002). This is an important finding, not least because it suggests that, if the principal drivers of bullying are organisational in nature, then appropriate workplace practices and policies can be developed to reduce, if not eliminate, the problem.

Research from EU

The European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions (Eurofound) published a report in 2007 entitled “Physical and psychological violence in the Workplace”.  Some of the key findings from this report are detailed below.

Key Findings

  • Overall approximately one in ten European workers report having experienced some form of workplace violence either physical or psychological in the previous 12 months
  • Overall levels of reported psychological violence are as high as those of physical violence.
  • Women, particularly younger women, appear to be more subject to psychological violence (bullying/harassment, sexual harassment) in the workplace than men
  • Exposure to all forms of violence tends to be concentrated in sectors with above average contact with the public.  The level of physical and psychological violence is particularly high in the education and health sectors as well as in public administration
  • Workers exposed to psychological risks report significantly higher levels of work related ill-health than those who do not.  The most common reported symptoms are stress, anxiety and irritability
  • Exposure to psychological violence is correlated with higher than average rates of absenteeism
  • Work environment factors contribute to the incidence of violence in the workplace.  Low levels of control over one’s work and high levels of work intensity (tight deadlines, working at very high speed), working in frequent contact with customers, clients and other non-colleagues are associated with a higher likelihood of being bullied

Research from US

According to the 2007 Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI) survey

  • 13% of USA employees said that they were currently being bullied
  • 24% of the respondents said they have been bullied in the past six months
  • An additional 12% say they have witnessed workplace bullying
  • About 45% of individuals targeted by bullies at work suffer stress-related health problems.  That could include cardiovascular problems, an impaired immune system, debilitating anxiety and even post-traumatic stress disorder, says Gary Namie, director of the Workplace Bullying Institute and president of Work Doctor, a consulting firm that specializes in correcting and preventing workplace bullying

In 2010, the WBI conducted a second representative study of all adult Americans on the topic of workplace bullying.  The second survey found

  • 35% of the U.S. workforce (an est. 53.5 million Americans) report being bullied at work
  • An additional 15% witness bullying at work
  • 62% of bullies are men
  • 58% of targets are women
  • Women bullies target women in 80% of cases
  • Bullying is 4 times more prevalent than illegal harassment (2007)
  • The majority (68%) of bullying is same-gender
  • Both men and women bully, but the majority of bullying is same-gender

With statistics so prominent, this evidence now clearly suggests that workplace bullying is thriving throughout most parts of the world.  Contact the WorkplaceBullying Team for more information on how we can help you prevent and address bullying in your organisation.