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Half of British workforce ill-treated

02 November 2011

stress - web

One million Britons experienced workplace violence in the last two years, while millions more were subjected to intimidation, humiliation and rudeness, new research has shown.

Surprisingly, managers and professionals in well-paid full-time jobs are among the groups most at risk.

The study also shows that conventional employment policies are failing to deal with workplace ill-treatment.

The research, by the School of Social Sciences and Plymouth Business School, is based on face-to-face interviews with nearly 4,000 employees who were representative of the British workforce. Key findings included:

  • 4.9 per cent had suffered violence in the workplace – the equivalent of more than 1 million workers - with 3.8 per cent injured as a result
  • Almost 30 per cent complained of impossible deadlines and unmanageable workloads
  • Nearly a quarter had been shouted at or experienced someone losing their temper
  • 13.3 per cent had been intimidated by somebody in the workplace

The study shows that violence is a more regular feature of working life than previously thought. Assault was a daily experience for 13 per cent of those who reported violence. Most of the attackers came from outside the workplace, with 72 per cent of assailants being customers, clients or members of the public. Workers in health and social work, education, and public administration and defence, were most at risk. Workers in the private sector were more likely to suffer assaults by colleagues.

The study also shows that unreasonable treatment affects just under half of Britain’s workforce in some form. Around seven to eight million British workers suffer from impossible workloads and not being listened to. While managers and supervisors were blamed for two-thirds of unreasonable behaviour incidents, staff in this category are also at risk of being victims themselves. The researchers found that permanent employees with managerial responsibilities were more likely to experience both unreasonable treatment and workplace violence.

Results of the study are to be unveiled at a London seminar tonight (Wednesday, November 2) as part of the Festival of Social Science, organised by the Economic and Social Research Council, who also funded the research.

Professor Ralph Fevre of Cardiff University, one of the study authors, said: "Sadly, our study shows that violence, ill-treatment and unreasonable behaviour are all too common in Britain’s workplaces. Standard employment policies, like workplace behaviour statements and "one size fits all" dispute procedures, are plainly failing. Many managers saw staff welfare as low on their list of priorities, while some even felt ill-treatment of staff was expected of them. We suggest that managers need to have standards of good treatment and civility built in as an essential part of their roles. At the same time, employers need to recognise the pressures many managers are clearly under themselves, and give them the time and space to embed fairness in the workplace."

The full report, Insight into ill-treatment in the workplace: patterns, causes and solutions can be found at http://www.cardiff.ac.uk/socsi/resources/insight11.pdf