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Most Workplace Bullying is Worker to Worker

Preliminary findings from a study conducted by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) find that most incidents of bullying in the workplace appear to be perpetuated by employees against one another.

The findings suggest that efforts to make changes at the organizational level to prevent bullying in the workplace should include steps to improve relationships among co-workers, and should not strictly focus on improving supervisor-employee and customer-employee relationships, the researchers said in reporting the preliminary results.

The study points to further research that would be needed before researchers could offer definitive recommendations for preventing bullying as a potential factor for work-related stress. The findings were reported at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association, held July 28-Aug. 1, as a progress report on the study.

Information was collected from key respondents at 516 private and public organizations; the respondents were human resources professionals or other individuals who were knowledgeable about their organization. The organizations ranged in size from five employees to 20,000 employees. Bullying was defined as repeated intimidation, slandering, social isolation, or humiliation by one or more persons against another. Data reported from the survey indicate:

  • 24.5 percent of the companies surveyed reported that some degree of bullying had occurred there during the preceding year.
  • In the most recent incident that had occurred, 39.2 percent involved an employee as the aggressor, 24.5 percent involved a customer and 14.7 percent involved a supervisor.
  • In the most recent incident, 55.2 percent involved the employee as the "victim," 10.5 percent the customer, and 7.7 percent the supervisor.

Since the results are based on a survey of a representative but small sample of respondents, other studies involving larger numbers of respondents would be needed to confirm the findings. In addition, other research would be needed in greater depth to identify the reasons for acts of bullying in the workplace, the circumstances in which bullying is most likely to occur, and specific measures for improving interpersonal relationships in the workplace.

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