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Violence and harassment in European workplaces: Extent, impacts and policies


Abstract and Figures

Violence and harassment are attacks on personal dignity, the right to equal and non-discriminatory treatment and often a person’s health. Workers affected by it feel insecure about their work; they are more frequently absent and may even be unable to work, with consequent impacts on productivity and corporate and public costs. Some national-level surveys point to a long-standing increase in reported violence and harassment. Certain European countries, such as the Scandinavian countries, have more coordinated, established policies on preventing and tackling violence and harassment. Awareness of the topic at the national level, its inclusion in legislation and the degree of the social partners’ involvement in policies and interventions all contribute to the effectiveness of policies to address it.
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Violence and harassment in
European workplaces:
Extent, impacts and policies
Violence and harassment in European workplaces:
Extent, impacts and policies
This report is available in electronic format only.
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Eurofound (2015), Violence and harassment in European workplaces: Extent, impacts and
policies Dublin.
Authors: Mario Giaccone and Daniele Di Nunzio, Associazione Bruno Trentin
Research managers: Andrea Fromm and Oscar Vargas
Research project: Extent of harassment and violence at work and preventive public measures
© European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions, 2015
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Executive summary .......................................................................................................................... 5
Introduction ...................................................................................................................................... 7
Surveying methodology.................................................................................................................. 12
Prevalence of violence and harassment in Europe ......................................................................... 17
Impacts of violence and harassment on workers and companies ................................................... 32
Public measures: Legislation and prevention policies .................................................................... 39
Impact of awareness and sociocultural characteristics ................................................................... 52
Conclusions .................................................................................................................................... 58
Outlook: Cyberbullying as an emerging issue ................................................................................ 61
References ...................................................................................................................................... 62
Annex 1: Classifying national surveys ........................................................................................... 65
Annex 2: Country codes ................................................................................................................. 90
Violence and harassment in European workplaces: Extent, impacts and policies
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Executive summary
This report presents the extent of workplace violence and harassment in the EU28 and Norway. It
is based on national-level surveys conducted between 2009 and 2013, as well as on results from
Eurofound’s fifth European Working Conditions Survey (EWCS). It analyses the links between
working conditions and violence and harassment at work, indicates the impact on workers and
companies, and compares the policies that governments and social partners have developed to
address the issue.
Policy context
The 1989 Framework Directive on measures to improve safety and health at work obliges
employers to implement preventive measures to guard against occupational accidents and
diseases. In line with this, psychosocial risks must be addressed in organisations’ health and
safety strategies. However, violence and harassment has been more specifically addressed in
equal treatment directives. Council Directive 2000/43 implements the principle of equal treatment
between persons irrespective of racial or ethnic origin while Directive 2000/78 establishes a
general framework for equal treatment in employment and occupation. The concept of harassment
was also introduced into the amendment to Directive 76/207/EEC on the implementation of the
principle of equal treatment for women and men as regards access to employment, vocational
training and promotion, and working conditions (as revised by Directive 2002/73).
More recently, EU policy on the topic has been developed mainly through the 2007 Autonomous
Framework Agreement on harassment and violence at work signed by the European social
partners. The agreement is a cornerstone both in adopting a shared definition by the social
partners and in proposing agreed guidelines for preventing violence and harassment.
Key findings
Evidence from the EWCS shows divergent trends over time: physical violence is declining, while
other forms of adverse social behaviour (ASB) persist. Overall, 14% of workers in 2010 reported
having been subjected to at least one type of ASB. National sources of information show small
increases in violence and harassment over time across Europe, due largely to increases in third-
party violence (an increasing proportion of the workforce being in direct contact with customers,
clients, patients and students). However, it is difficult to draw definite conclusions; different
forms of violence may interrelate and overlap, creating difficulties in distinguishing between
Being subjected to violence and harassment at work has a marked impact on workers’ health and
productivity and undermines the sustainability of work over the life course. Working conditions
such as greater work intensity, greater psychological and physical job demands, greater job
insecurity, workplace conflict and poor managerial practices can foster a greater likelihood of
violence and harassment at work.
National survey findings indicate that women generally report having experienced violence and
harassment more than men. Workers in certain sectors are also more likely to experience the
phenomenon: in health and social work, transport and storage, and accommodation and food
services (all sectors with substantial interaction with third parties). In many countries, non-native
workers are more likely to be subjected to violence and harassment. And temporary agency
workers and apprentices are more likely to experience it than workers with an indefinite contract.
The extent of the issue varies throughout Europe: workers in southern Europe are less likely to
report experiencing ASB than those in central European countries and Scandinavia.
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Since 2000, some countries especially those in northern Europe (Scandinavia, Benelux, Ireland
and the UK) where comparatively high proportions of workers report experiencing violence and
harassment have developed a variety of policies to address the issue. In most of these countries,
tripartite initiatives exist and social partners are able to influence policymaking to some degree.
However, the extent to which countries incorporate the issue into their legislation varies as does
the type of legislation it is addressed in. In Belgium, legislation on violence and harassment is
more developed than in the UK, although both countries have long-standing initiatives to address
the issue. In this group of northern European countries, there is also a high proportion of small
companies (fewer than 10 employees) that have implemented preventive procedures. Some
countries have seen positive results: in the Netherlands, for instance, there has been an ongoing
small decrease reported in the phenomenon.
The legislation enacted to address violence and harassment varies across Europe, reflecting both
cultural peculiarities and differences in labour law especially in terms of health and safety at
work. Most countries deal with violence and harassment through equal treatment legislation or
general labour law rather than through specific occupational safety and health (OSH) legislation.
Legal definitions of violence and harassment at work have recently been introduced in Ireland
and Slovenia.
Despite such advances in some European countries, many people subjected to violence and
harassment do not take court action because of the limited prospects of success. Similarly, the
number of claims made to governmental equality bodies are low because these bodies have
limited scope to intervene in workplace-related issues, and claimants are potentially exposed to
the risk of retaliation. Thus, underreporting is a shared problem among almost all countries.
Policy pointers
Despite the complexity of the issue, attention should be paid to countries where the following
elements coincide: people displaying a low level of awareness of the causes and
consequences of violence and harassment; a large proportion of workers reporting that they
have been subjected to it; scant development of policies to address the issue.
Existing social, cultural, legal and administrative differences in Member States influence the
perception of an incident of violence and harassment. In turn, whether or not an incident is
considered a violation of someone’s dignity impacts on the likelihood that it will be reported
as a case of violence and harassment. Working towards an EU-wide approach on defining,
surveying and studying the issue is desirable for EU-level initiatives.
Greater understanding is required of the impact of prolonged exposure to violence and
harassment on the sustainability of work in terms of, for instance, participation in
employment and the productivity of workers.
Raising awareness remains a key element in fostering a decrease of violence and harassment at
work, regardless of the national context and other specific circumstances.
A continuous, coordinated policy with the participation of all stakeholders contributes to
effectively addressing the issue at company level. To this end, the gains that have been
observed in some Member States should be disseminated in other countries especially those
where a high level of reporting coincides with a lack of policies addressing the issue.
Extensive legislation may not on its own be sufficient to tackle effectively violence and
harassment at the workplace; however, it would appear necessary that the issue should at least
be included in work-related legislation to make employers and workers more aware of their
obligations and rights.
It is at company level that initiatives must be implemented: for that reason, practical
guidelines and labour inspections that monitor implementation play a role.
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Over the past decade, focus has expanded beyond physical health and safety risks towards a more
encompassing well-being at work approach associated with psychosocial factors. This is
consistent with the World Health Organization (WHO) definition of health as a state of well-
being. The focus on well-being includes psychosocial risk factors that may cause both
psychological and physical diseases. Absences and, in the most serious cases, incapacity to work
are the main effects of poor health and well-being, while poor personal motivation at work
negatively affects firms’ performance because of lower productivity and increased turnover.
Violence and harassment at work are increasingly seen as an important part of the psychosocial
risk factors affecting individual health and well-being. According to the Community strategy
20072012 on health and safety at work (COM(2007)62), they lead to poor mental health, which
was the fourth most frequent cause of incapacity. The recently published European Commission
Strategic Framework on Health and Safety at Work 20142020 does not specifically mention
violence and harassment. However, it does mention the need to promote well-being and prevent
mental health problems. Moreover, in the context of the challenge of improving prevention of
work-related diseases by tackling existing and new risks’, the Strategic Framework refers to a
Eurobarometer survey finding that 53% of workers consider stress to be one of the main
occupational risks. As the next sections will show, violence and harassment are strongly
associated with work-related stress and mental health.
The concept of adverse social behaviour (ASB) that was developed for the overview report of the
Fifth European Working Conditions Survey (EWCS) will be mainly used when describing results
of the survey. ASB is an index based on six questions from the questionnaire of the Fifth EWCS
conducted in 2010, which ask the person if, during the course of their work, they have has been
subjected to verbal abuse, unwanted sexual attention, threats or humiliating behaviour during the
last month, or during the previous 12 months.
The 2004 Eurofound report Violence, bullying and harassment in the workplace outlines
differences among various forms of ASB, reflecting the fact that different meanings of these
concepts reflect cultural contexts, thus raising difficulties and limitations in capturing them in
surveys. However, both the EWCS results and national survey findings among Member States
show increases in violence and harassment in the 1990s and early 2000s.
Evidence from the 20052010 waves of the EWCS display divergent trends. While physical
violence declined, other forms of violence and harassment, such as threats, intimidation, bullying,
harassment and unwanted sexual attention remained stable over time. The overall share of
respondents reporting ASB increased from 11.2% in 2005 to 14.9% in 2010. As pointed out by
the Eurofound publication Physical and psychological violence at the workplace, different forms
of violence may interrelate and overlap, which makes it difficult to distinguish them. Such
difficulties further increase when we attempt to define psychological violence, because of the
uncertain boundary between acceptable and unacceptable behaviour.
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According to the 2010 EU-OSHA report, Workplace violence and harassment: A European
picture, reviewing both existing literature and official definitions from national-level and
supranational institutions reveals that no single uniform definition for workplace harassment and
violence so far exists due to their multiple dimensions, even though there have been plenty of
efforts to establish a comprehensive approach, as shown by a growing literature on these
problems (Leather et al, 1999; Chappell and Di Martino, 2006; Einarsen et al, 2011). The report
defines violence and harassment as follows.
Work-related violence is used to refer to all kinds of violent incidents at work, including third
party violence and harassment (bullying, mobbing) at work.
Harassment is used to refer to the phenomenon also called bullying or mobbing, describing
repeated, unreasonable behaviour directed towards and employee, or group of employees by a
colleague, supervisor or subordinate, aimed at victimising, humiliating, undermining or
threatening them.
Violence and harassment have been described as relating to interpersonal relationships at work.
Distinctive features of violence and harassment include the following:
an imbalance of power among actors (Einarsen et al, 2011);
high levels of tension among colleagues due to, for instance, workplace jealousy and envy
(Vecchio, 1995);
a hostile work environment (Einarsen et al, 2011).
Furthermore, cultural factors at national, occupational and sectoral level affect how workers
perceive incidents.
The European social partners’ 2007 framework agreement on harassment and violence at work
was a milestone both in the adopting of a shared definition by the EU social partners and in
agreeing on prevention guidelines. The 2011 implementation report of the framework agreement
(300 KB PDF) compiled by the social partners highlights the importance of a national legislative
framework in shaping social partners’ action at national level. Some initiatives began since the
agreement was signed.
However, the conceptualisation of the phenomenon also includes new perspectives. Emerging
types of violence and harassment are under investigation, such as cyberbulling (Privitera and
Campbell, 2009). Third-party violence is becoming increasingly important among policymakers
and social partners, as highlighted in the multisectoral EU social partners guidelines on tackling
third-party violence and harassment (205 KB PDF) agreed in July 2010 by the public services,
services in general, education, hospital and healthcare, commerce and security services (EPSU,
UNI Europa, ETUCE, HOSPEEM, CEMR, EFEE, EuroCommerce and CoESS). Furthermore, the
economic crisis has increased the amount of attention paid to the connection between
restructuring and violence and harassment and violence, and the relationship between
employment status and suicide (176 KB PDF).
This comparative analytical report summarises national contributions from Member States and
Norway. It compiles national and European sources of information about the extent of violence
and harassment, such as the EWCS and the European Survey of Enterprises on New and
Emerging Risks (ESENER) (6.45 MB PDF). In addition, it examines public policies that seek to
tackle violence and harassment by monitoring it and devising suitable prevention policies.
The report presents evidence from national surveys investigating violence and harassment as well
as information about how the topic is surveyed and its prevalence. This information is
complemented by qualitative studies and evidence on new emerging forms, such as
cyberbullying, the relationship with working conditions and the outcome of these behaviours for
workers’ health and their labour market participation. The report also summarises evidence on
prevention policies and recent legislative changes in the Member States and Norway. Finally, it
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suggests possible explanations for the different levels of the prevalence of violence and
harassment in European countries. Policy pointers and recommendations are given in the
Definitions of violence and harassment
Definitions used in legal provisions differ between countries. Most of the national legislation is
based on the European social partners’ 2007 framework agreement on harassment and violence at
work and the 2000 Equal Treatment Directive. The reference definition in this report is based on
the 2007 framework agreement, in which violence and harassment are defined as ‘unacceptable
behaviour by one or more individuals and can take many different forms’. It goes on to say
‘Violence occurs when one or more worker or manager are assaulted in circumstances relating to
work’, while ‘harassment occurs when one or more worker or manager are repeatedly and
deliberately abused, threatened and/or humiliated in circumstances relating to work’.
The agreement states that violence and harassment can take the following forms.
They can be physical, psychological and/or sexual.
They may be performed by one or more individuals.
They may be one-off incidents or more systematic patterns of behaviour.
They may take place amongst colleagues, between superiors and subordinates or by third
parties such as clients, customers, patients or pupils.
They can range from cases of disrespect to criminal offences.
Since this conceptualisation of violence and harassment has been agreed by the EU social
partners and because it looks at the overall concept, it can be used as a reference for definitions
established at national level. Third-party violence is included in the concept, but it should be
considered separately because of its nature and source. It is defined as violence and harassment
conducted by people who are not employed by the same employer as the person who has
experienced acts of violence and harassment. People who are violent towards or harass an
employee could be customers, clients, patients, students or pupils of this person.
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Figure 1: Mapping the reference definition for the report
Workplace violence
and harassment
Adverse social behaviours
DisrespectCriminal offence
One-off or systematic patterns of behaviour
Amongst colleagues, between superiors, and subordinates or by third parties
By one or more individuals
Mobbing Bullying
Source: European social partners’ 2007 framework agreement on harassment
and violence at work
Most Member States regulate violence under general criminal, civil and administrative laws, but
the general obligation on the employer to ensure health and safety under all aspects related to
work is less developed. In Belgium, Germany and Italy, national legislation includes provisions
for specific prevention against third-party violence.
The picture is more differentiated when it comes to harassment. By combining contributions from
national experts and the 2010 EU-OSHA report, Workplace violence and harassment: A
European picture, most countries adopted the definition of harassment set by the 2000 Equal
Treatment Directive as an unwanted conduct related to racial or ethnic origin (which) takes place
with the purpose or effect of violating the dignity of a person and of creating an intimidating,
hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment’.
According to the joint report on developing anti-discrimination law in Europe, COM(2014) 2,
definitions of harassment in general legislation differ from the one proposed by the equal
treatment directive in several countries. In Denmark, France, Hungary, the Netherlands, Slovakia
and Sweden, the definition does not include the unwanted aspect of the behaviour, while in
Spain, ‘hostile’ and ‘degrading’ are not included in the national definition, which refers to the
creation of an intimidating, humiliating or offensive environment only. The Swedish general
legislation requires simply that the incident violates the dignity of a person. The Finnish
definition covers the violation of physical integrity in addition to the violation of dignity and
includes groups as well as individuals. These countries have thus adopted a more extensive
definition of harassment.
Only a few countries provide a definition of abusive behaviours; this may be done in labour law
(Estonia, France, Latvia and Slovenia) or in occupational health and safety (OHS) legislation (for
example, Belgium).
Belgian legislation that came into force in 2014 broadens the previous definition of violence and
harassment at work by using the more generic term psychosocial risks (page in Dutch).
Therefore, it encompasses other situations like stress, burnout and interpersonal conflicts that
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might have been caused by aggressive behaviour. The Slovenian 2013 Act distinguishes between
harassment and bullying (page in Slovenian): harassment is defined as ‘any undesired behaviour
associated with any personal circumstance’, while bullying at the workplace is defined as ‘any
repetitive or systematic, reprehensible or clearly negative and insulting action or behaviour aimed
at individual workers in the workplace or in connection with work. In the Irish 2012 order
revising the 1998 Employment Equality Act, bullying is considered as an incident not linked to
discrimination, which is why it is not covered by the Employment Equality Act.
The French legal definition of ‘moral harassment’ at work focuses on ‘a behaviour of any person
abusing the authority conferred on him/her or him/her position’ (see the EIRO IU FR0101121F),
undermining the physical and mental health of the target or compromising their professional
future. Similarly, ‘the abuse or misuse of power’ is part of the UK definition of bullying as part of
general law. Legislation in Italy and Poland defines only ‘mobbing’, which is considered to be a
persistent action and behaviour that damages the workers productivity. While in Italian
legislation the minimum period for the duration of mobbing is specified(six months), in Poland
the negative impact on perceived professional abilities and the purpose of perpetrator(s) in
‘humiliating or ridiculing the employee, isolating or eliminating him or her from the group of co-
worker’ (EU-OSHA, 2010) is highlighted. Spanish legislation defines harassment (1.21 MB
PDF), viewing it as intended to ‘humiliate the victim, imposing situations that greatly offend
human dignity’. It provides a definition that is very close to that of mobbing in Italy and Poland,
thus narrowing the scope of the definition of harassment defined in general legislation. Finally,
Cyprus and Malta define only sexual harassment at work.
In general, national legal definitions include descending top-down harassment (or bossing),
horizontal harassment (among colleagues) and ascending bottom-up harassment (towards the
superior). This is also true for the French, Italian and Polish definitions, although they focus on
descending forms. The French definition also includes violence and harassment from third
Less than half the Member States provide work-related specific definitions of violence and/or
harassment at work in their legislation. In some, only guidelines or social partner agreements
provide definitions. The focus of the definition varies from country to country, while some
countries share the concept of the repetitive or systematic nature of the occurrences.
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Surveying methodology
In discussing the extent of violence and harassment measured through surveys, the 2004
Eurofound report Violence, bullying and harassment in the workplace pointed out some key
issues that make comparative analysis difficult.
The concepts used do not always relate to people’s everyday life or their own concepts.
Surveys do not allow scope for subjective meanings.
Violence and harassment are social issues that are difficult to capture in surveys.
Surveys fail to see the progressive nature of the problems.
Translations in international surveys are problematic due to different meanings and concepts.
The report Workplace violence and harassment: A European picture from EU-OSHA, also
identifies several limitations for comparative studies:
the use of different definitions and classifications;
the use of different methodologies for collecting and processing information, including
quantitative and qualitative research, case studies and different ways of reporting a case of
differing levels of accuracy in measuring the nature of the incident;
the use of different time limits;
the use of different criteria for assessment;
different foci of data collection;
cultural differences in experiencing violence and harassment.
The aim of this section is to show the variety of methods used to measure violence and
harassment. Mapping methods allow evidence to be framed at national level and provide
information in order to explore if it is possible to work towards common standards for monitoring
the problem among Member States and Norway in the future. This would increase the
comparability of data across countries and allow analysis over time.
Extent of violence and harassment
Reporting harassment or psychological violence is the result of observable offensive acts that
cause the target person to perceive that they are being degraded and that there is a lack of respect
for his or her personal dignity. The way it is experienced and reported is influenced not only by
personal perception, but also by how it is defined in the cultural context and the level of
individual awareness.
This reliance on perception raises several problems when measuring the extent of violence and
harassment through surveys. Tables A.1 to A.4 in the Annex summarise the main analytical
dimensions used across Europe in over 60 surveys in relation to violence and harassment, such as
the methodological approach, reference period, key words, perpetrators and the intensity and
duration. Table A.5 displays the adopted approaches by their scope (national, sectoral, regional
and occupational).
The self-labelling approach asks the respondent directly if they have experienced violence or
harassment. The aggregate sum of answers equals the final level of violence and harassment. The
self-labelling approach tends to be less objective because it focuses on self-identified experience.
The operational approach derives information about the level of violence and harassment by
asking the respondent a set of questions about a variety of types of aggressive behaviours.
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Respondents indicate how they were exposed to different forms of violence and harassment
without referring explicitly to the concepts of violence and harassment. A set of predefined
coding rules is used to work out the level of violence and harassment. The operational approach
tends to provide more objective estimates of the prevalence of violence and harassment because
the respondent is only indirectly asked about their experience of violence and harassment through
a set of questions on negative behaviours.
The self-labelling approach has the clear advantage of providing synthetic information about
these acts. It is therefore used by surveys that analyse working conditions and quality of work
(such as Eurofound’s EWCS) and labour force surveys (such as the ad hoc modules on health and
safety at work of Eurostat’s Labour Force Survey, LFS). This approach is at risk of under-
reporting and displays severe problems in terms of comparability (discussed below). Several
reasons can be given for under-reporting, such as poor personal awareness, personal
characteristics or social and cultural factors. As highlighted by Eurofound report Physical and
psychological violence at the workplace, these surveys rely on the willingness of respondents to
disclose the problem and identify themselves as victim or target’, thus generating a selection bias.
In order to reduce such bias, some surveys include a definition of the most challenging and
elusive terms used, such as ‘bullying’ (the Finnish national work and health survey carried out by
FIOSH, the quality of working life survey by Statistics Finland and the Irish Bullying in the
Workplace survey from the Economic and Social Research Institute) or moral harassment (the
French SUMER and working conditions surveys carried out by the Ministry of Labour).
According to national contributions, the Danish Copenhagen Psychosocial Questionnaire
(COPSOQ) is the most accepted survey using the self-labelling approach. It provides the most
detailed information in terms of investigated behaviours (gossip and slander, quarrel and
conflicts, unpleasant teasing, undesired sexual attention, threats of violence, violence, bullying),
the intensity of the attacks and the perpetrators.
Using the operational approach, it is possible to measure the duration of a respondent’s exposure
to violence and harassment. Because of definitions provided for violence and harassment, this
approach is preferred when the investigated population is quite homogeneous (in terms of
company, sector or occupation) in order to maximise shared understanding. The most widespread
questionnaires developed using this approach are the Negative Acts Questionnaire-Revised
(NAQ-R), proposed by Einarsen et al (2009), and the Leyman Inventory Psychological
Terrorisation (LIPT) questionnaire developed by Leyman in various versions (31 or 45 items).
According to the NAQ-R, employees reporting at least two negative behaviours in a week are
considered as having been bullied, while according to the LIPT questionnaire, having experienced
violence and harassment once a week is sufficient for identifying a bullied employee.
When using these standard questionnaires, operational approaches have the advantage of sharing
the same format as the most well-known questionnaires, thus providing a consistent way to
investigate such behaviours across countries, which ensures wide comparability (see for all
Nielsen et al, 2010). Nevertheless, they are quite long and therefore it is hard to add them as a
module to wide-spectrum surveys such as those investigating quality of work and employment.
The advantages of both approaches (self-labelling and operational) are combined in an integrated
approach. The most common strategy is to pick some of the most relevant negative behaviours
included in the NAQ-R or LIPT questionnaires and assess them against the self-labelling
approach. Eleven surveys with an integrated approach were reported, combining both incidents
that were personally experienced (direct approach) and witnessed or observed (indirect approach);
eight of these surveys were conducted at national level (see Table A.6).
Focusing on the work environment in interviews, rather than on personal experience, can spare
people feelings of embarrassment or shame. In such surveys, interviewees are asked about their
social work environment (the Spanish National Survey on Quality of Life in the Workplace,
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ECTV, for example), whether certain risks are present (the Dutch Netherlands Employers Work
Survey NEWS) or whether respondents have noticed or witnessed (in contrast to personally
experienced) ASBs in the workplace (for instance, the Italian quality of work survey). In that
case, the investigation is considered self-labelled but indirect. Surveys taking the workplace as the
unit of analysis adopt this approach.
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Prevention policies and interventions by different actors
Surveys investigating health and safety at work typically ask about prevention policies addressing
specific issues, such as internal procedures dealing with psychosocial risks. Some national
surveys take different approaches. The Irish bullying at work survey provides the most complete
picture: it asks respondents whether the company they are working for has an anti-bullying
policy, whether it is implemented and what the impact of the policy is. The Italian quality of work
survey and ad hoc module and the Cypriot survey on gender discrimination in work and
employment investigate who workers approached (whether at the workplace or externally) for
advice or legal assistance. The Estonian gender equality monitoring survey seeks to identify the
person responsible for solving the problem. In general, these surveys do not differentiate by the
type of violence and harassment nor by the type of perpetrator (whether internal or a third party).
Some surveys investigate negative behaviours by using the workplace as the reference unit. The
Irish Bullying in the Workplace survey includes a questionnaire addressed to the employer. It
undertakes the most complete investigation on the employers’ side by asking how prevalent
various forms of bullying (horizontal, ascending and descending) were over the two years
preceding the survey. It also asks questions about; the impact of ASB on motivation, productivity,
absenteeism and turnover; the employer’s familiarity with the codes of conduct recommended by
Irish legislation; and the existence and impact of formal procedures for dealing with ASB and the
frequency of their use.
The German WSI works council survey (page in German) is addressed to a representative sample
of establishments with 20 or more employees and with a works or staff council. It investigates
whether the works or staff council were asked to intervene in cases of violence and harassment in
the previous two years. The UK Trades Union Congress (TUC) survey asks OHS representatives
about the five issues of major concern at the workplace, including violence and harassment. Both
surveys are carried out every second year.
At EU level, the Enterprise Survey on New and Emerging Risks (ESENER), carried out by EU-
OSHA, whose first wave was addressed to both employers’ and worker’ representatives , devotes
a section to psychosocial risk factors, including questions related to violence and harassment (the
level of concern, procedures in place, occurrence in the workplace and the importance of the
Reference period for and frequency of incidents
The reference period is important with regard to harassment and psychological violence, where
the recurrence of negative behaviour is common. Thus, repetition over time implies both a
reference period within which these behaviours impact on the target and a measure of the
frequency of these abuses.
The reference period is also relevant when comparing surveys in order to ensure a minimal
criterion of homogeneity. Most surveys using the self-labelling approach take the previous 12
months as the reference period, with a few exceptions: the Italian ISfol quality of work survey
(QWS) refers to the entire working life, while the Slovak survey on violence against women
refers to the previous five years). Operational surveys commonly refer to the previous six months,
although this varies across countries and surveys. Analysis by occupational psychologists has
ascertained that the recurrence of these behaviours over a period of six months affects the work
environment in a lasting way.
The frequency and duration of incidents of violence and harassment are an important indicator of
their seriousness, and usually included by international definitions, such as those presented in the
2010 EU-OSHA report Workplace violence and harassment: A European picture. The European
social partners’ 2007 framework agreement on harassment and violence at work highlights that
negative behaviours have to be systematic in order to foster an abuse of power. As summarised in
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Table A.8, some 26 surveys investigate recurrence of abuse. Of these, 12 adopt a self-labelling
approach and six an integrated approach. None of the EU-level surveys, including the EWCS,
investigates recurrence of incidents.
The intensity of incidents of violence and harassment is investigated in terms of the number of
attacks over a given time unit (daily, weekly, monthly, yearly) or in ordinal terms, such as the
COPSOQ questionnaire (Never, Rarely, Often, Daily) (Table A.8).
The time period during which incidents occur is indication of an abuse of power. The time period
is investigated in five surveys: those using the LIPT questionnaire and several integrated surveys.
The Irish Bullying in the Workplace Survey and the Italian Istat ad hoc module investigate both
duration and intensity, thus providing a more complete range of information (Table A.10).
Finally, only a few surveys investigate whether these behaviours are happening on a continuous
basis or if they occurred in the past: the Finnish Quality of Work Life Survey (QWLS), the
French Sumer and the Italian ad hoc module ask if it is current or in the past, the Irish Bullying
in the Workplace Survey and the French Health and Career Path survey (SIP) outline a full
timeline of their occurrence. This distinction provides relevant information about the available
resources for both targeted individuals (social support, individual psychological attitudes) and
workplaces that favour solutions for abusive behaviours (in terms of the social environment,
personnel management and prevention policies).
Attempts to investigate perpetrators
As defined by the 2007 European social partners framework agreement, perpetrators can be
either internal or they can be external (a third party). An increasing number of workers in some
sectors deal with third parties (clients, customers, patients, pupils) on a daily basis. This reflects
the growth of the service industry. In this context, the possibility of being harassed by an external
perpetrator becomes more likely.
According to Table A.9, all surveys that adopt an integrated approach make some type of
distinction between internal and external perpetrators, except the Italian Istat ad hoc citizen safety
module, which considers only horizontal forms of harassment (mobbing) and descending forms
(bossing). Among surveys implementing an operational approach, the NAQ-R does not consider
perpetrators, while 15 out of 28 self-labelling surveys consider both internal and external
perpetrators, for at least one form of violence and harassment. The Hungarian survey on dangers
at school also considers pupils negative behaviours. The Danish COPSOQ questionnaire displays
the most complete mapping of perpetrators by distinguishing colleagues, superiors and
subordinates among internal perpetrators from external perpetrators. The Irish Bullying in the
Workplace Survey, the Luxembourgish survey on workers representation of work conditions and
the Estonian survey on gender equality monitoring also consider whether there was one
perpetrator or several for each incident investigated. On the other hand, none of the EU-level
workers’ surveys draws any distinction between the perpetrators. The company survey ESENER
differentiates between internal harassment and third party violence.
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Prevalence of violence and harassment in Europe
As shown in the previous section, most national surveys using a self-labelling approach use
different concept definitions, methodologies and question design. Definitions proposed by
legislation, case law and administrative acts often impact on what is asked and how it is asked.
Operational approaches ensure comparability only among those surveys that share the same
questionnaire, such as the NAQ-R and LIPT. These approaches have been implemented mainly at
company or sectoral level. Integrated approaches carried out at national level all differ from each
other for both operational and self-labelling questions. Thus, for the time being, only cross-
national surveys such as Eurofound’s EWCS and EU-OSHA’s ESENER ensure comparability
between countries. The EU Fundamental Rights Agency’s survey on violence against women
provides additional information on Europe-wide harassment at work. Data from the EWCS
specifically, the waves from 1995 to 2005 for the Member States that constituted the EU15 was
used in the study Workplace violence and the changing nature of work in Europe to investigate
individual-level and organisational-level risk factors as determinants of self-reported third-party
In order to assess the prevalence of violence and harassment, results of the prevalence of ASB in
the EU28 and Norway are presented in this section. However, because different methodologies
and questions are used in these surveys, it is not always possible to compare indicators related to
violence and harassment. The main sources of information are the fifth EWCS (2010) and the
national-level surveys that have been reported by the national correspondents. While the 2010
EWCS allows comparisons based on the same survey to be applied to the EU28 and Norway,
information from national contributions allows trends to be updated and shows different findings
due to the different methodologies used in relation to the definitions and questions included in the
various surveys.
Latest trends in ASBs
Eurofound’s index of ASBs includes all workers reporting at least one form of violence or
harassment as asked in the EWCS.
Figure 2: Proportion of workers affected by ASB, by country (%)
Source: EWCS 2010
Figure 2 shows a geographical pattern: the Baltic states, central and western European countries,
and the Scandinavian countries are above the EU28 average of 14%. Austria, the Czech Republic
and Finland show the highest percentages of workers reporting violence or harassment at the
workplace (more than 20%), whereas in half of the eastern European countries (except Slovakia,
Violence and harassment in European workplaces: Extent, impacts and policies
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Slovenia and the Baltic states) and in all the southern European countries, a smaller proportion of
workers reports ASB (from 6% in Cyprus to 12% in Croatia).
Table A.10 summarises evidence from national cross-national surveys. National data are
compared with the latest index data from the fifth EWCS. Because of differences in the ways
behaviours are grouped as well as lexical differences, it is possible to compare only a subset of
surveys. Even with this approach, comparability is limited due to differences in definitions and
Information from the national contributions shows that verbal and psychological aggression
ranging from threats, intimidation, verbal abuse, bullying, harassment, mobbing and
psychological violence constitute the most reported forms of violence and harassment in the
EU. Few surveys allow a direct comparison between internal and external incidents. In Bulgaria
and Spain (only in 2011), internal aggression is reported more than external aggression, while the
reverse is true in France, the Netherlands and Sweden. Generally, incidents of violence and
harassment that have been witnessed or observed are more common than incidents of first-hand
experience. This is the case in Denmark and Finland.
In order to provide a review of Member States’ positioning, the questionnaire for the fifth EWCS
is used as a reference. Table 1 shows national surveys with questions that are similar to the
questions in the EWCS. The prevalence of the different adverse behaviours as measured by most
national surveys is often higher than the results obtained from the EWCS.
Table 1: Proportion of people subjected to ASBs, by country
Threats of
Bullying and
Below EU
Above EU
BE, BG,*
Note: In case of multiple waves, those closest to 2010 are used. National surveys
are not available for CY, DE, EL, HR, LT and MT. Please see Annex 2 for an
explanation of the country codes.
*Work Climate Index 2012 only.
Source: EWCS 2010 and national contributions
Results from only nine Member States’ national-level cross-sectoral survey match those of the
EWCS. Overall, the EWCS indicates a lower level of reporting than national sources. Figures
related to violence and harassment from the Eurostat Labour Force Survey (LFS) are also
generally lower, as the questions are restricted to violence and harassment with a negative impact
on health. However, this comparison is only indicative of the outcomes of the different
methodologies used. Few national surveys use synthetic indicators: in France (the only indicator
based on an operational approach) and the Netherlands the reported incidence of ASBs is higher
than the results of the fifth EWCS, while in Ireland figures are considerably lower than the
EWCS. Although referring to 2007, and therefore not fully comparable, the Czech STAM/MARK
survey displays figures that are higher in 2009 and lower in 2011 than the EWCS.
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Comparability of figures among Member States is relevant, as national decision-making on both
the regulatory framework and prevention policies relies mainly on national-level sources,
including both administrative and working conditions surveys.
The Eurofound report Physical and psychological violence at the workplace shows a downward
trend in levels of exposure to physical violence at EU level (for example, from 5% of workers in
2005 to 2% in 2010). Reported levels of workplace harassment and bullying remained relatively
constant or only declined slightly from 2005 to 2010.
Few national contributions provide trends on violence and harassment, and reported periods vary
among countries. For example, figures from Finland and Norway are available since the mid-
1990s, while in the Netherlands they have been provided only since 2007. Except for Italy, all
surveys share the same reference period of 12 months.
As a general pattern, violence and harassment were increasingly reported during the past decade
by countries reporting a longer time series, such as Finland and Norway. The 2013 wave of the
Norwegian survey shows an increase in both violence and unwanted sexual attention, but the
reported average number of attacks is declining, signalling a decrease in serious cases (Table 2).
An increase is reported in Bulgaria, Finland and the Netherlands (for sexual harassment), Spain
(verbal violence) and France (the indirect synthetic indicator increased from 17% in 2003 to
22.3% in 2009). There was an increase in witnessed violence and harassment in Denmark and
Finland, while the number of personally experienced incidents is generally declining.
In general in Europe, violence and harassment have increased over the long term. However,
between 2005 and 2010, the overall levels of violence and harassment were relatively stable. An
increase in violence and harassment has been reported in some countries in more recent times,
partly in connection to changes in workplaces affected by the economic crisis, as shown in the
Eurofound report Impact of the crisis on working conditions in Europe. This contrasts with the
information provided by the national contributions, where nine surveys from seven countries
show a decline in violence and harassment.
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Table 2: Trends in reported violence and harassment
Time period
Violence and
=, +f
- / +
Verbal violence,
=, -f
Notes: = stable situation; + increase ; - decrease.
a Two periods; b Discrepancy among surveys; c Observed; d Only 2009/2013; e Small
variation; f From third parties.
Source: National contributions
Administrative sources for ASB trends
Administrative data, cases filed by public administrations such as labour inspectorates, cases filed
by work insurers and court judgements are strongly affected by institutional changes. Changes in
legislation, the establishment of new institutions (such as an equality ombudsman and
counsellors), or the emergence of case law can pave the way for new juridical approaches and
policy changes. This information complements surveys and reveals how violence and harassment
are dealt with in practice by both victims and public institutions. Under-reporting is a central
issue when dealing with both types of sources. When it comes to data other than that gained from
surveys, under-reporting is linked to difficulties in proving perpetrators’ responsibility in cases of
recourse to the courts or proving limitations to their employability in cases of incapacity claims.
Evidence from Member States comes from a variety of sources. Most sources refer to either
ministries of labour or of welfare, such as an equality ombudsman or committees (reported by
eight countries), labour inspectorates (six countries) and health and safety authorities and registers
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(three countries). Other important sources of information are court case laws (five countries), and
crime statistics and human rights committees (one country each).
Most countries have more than one administrative source. For instance, in Sweden an equality
ombudsman dealt with 24 complaints in 2009, and labour inspectorate files show that violence or
abuse accounted for 5% of work accidents and work-related diseases among women and 2.5%
among men, with over 700 cases addressed. In Slovakia, numbers from the labour inspectorate
are negligible (except in 2010), while those reported by the Ministry of Labour or a human rights
association are higher. However, the number of overall reported claims increased from 16 in 2008
to an annual average of around 300 in 20092011.
Under-reporting is less pronounced when administrative sources do not rely on the target person’s
claims. This is the case for health and safety authorities that classify violence and harassment as
work accidents. They range from about 2.5% of total work accidents in Slovenia to 5% in Latvia
and 7% in Ireland. As a general trend, under-reporting declines as the probability of the claim
being successful increases. Across countries, legal action is rarely taken because the likelihood of
success often seems low.
Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom have a variety of administrative sources
available to assess the level of violence and harassment. Some sources in these countries address
just one type of violence and harassment (third-party violence). In Germany, the German
Statutory Accident Insurance (DGUV) sickness scheme, related to leave of more than three days
due to violence, attacks and intimidation from internal perpetrators, remained stable between
2005 and 2012. Crime statistics show that the number of robberies and assaults almost halved in
the financial sector from 2007 to 2012 but increased by almost 28% against other cash points and
businesses such as gambling halls. Violence and harassment remained stable for other
professions, such as motorists (including taxi drivers) and cash transports. Lone workers are most
at risk of being subjected to violence and harassment, especially workers in gambling halls and
small shops. The individuals concerned in the cases of violence and harassment reported to the
German DGUV are confirmed by doctors as being entitled to take sick leave. The mediating role
of doctors, a feature of the system, might give the victim more confidence to report cases, which
might help reduce under-reporting. The German DGUV is therefore a relatively reliable source
for estimating the impact of violence and harassment in terms of both personal health and societal
In the UK, according to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) survey based on the British Crime
Survey, assaults increased by 18.5% from 20062007 to 20102011 and threats declined by
21.3%. The proportion of workers who experienced a violent incident at work declined from
1.7% in 20062007 to 1.5% in 20102011 due to a decline in threats. On the other hand, the
Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations (RIDDOR) survey,
which collates the number of accidents at work, remained quite stable from 20092010 to 2011
2012. The number of accidents at work declined in 20122013.
In the Netherlands, registers for violent and harassing incidents at work were established in the
sectors most at risk of third-party violence, such as railways, social security, the police force and
ambulance services. These registers provide information for designing suitable interventions as
part of the Dutch OHS prevention policy strategy and for monitoring their success. One in every
five employees (full-time equivalent) of the Dutch Railways has reported an attack and 12% of
those were reported to the police. Employees with the police force reported the second-highest
proportion of workers being subjected to attacks (more than one in seven), followed by those
working in the ambulance services (one in 18) and those employed by the Social Security Agency
(one in 30).
As outlined above, several factors discourage people from reporting incidents at workplace level
or to public authorities, such as limitations in the legal framework, including imprecise definitions
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of the phenomenon, and a fear of how employers, colleagues or society will react. Poor legal
recognition and little chance of succeeding in any action are reported in many national
contributions, such as Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Germany, Greece, Italy and Luxembourg.
Limits in both the legal framework and prevention policies reinforce the targets fear in reporting
cases. Targets are afraid of the consequences, such as losing their current job (Bulgaria, Hungary,
Italy, Lithuania, Malta, Portugal, Slovenia), retaliation from the employer (Greece, Malta,
Slovenia) and social consequences. These factors are mutually reinforcing, creating a vicious
circle of under-reporting and a lack of information about the topic. This can lead to the issue
being less visible in public debate and having a low priority on policymakers’ agendas.
Who is subjected to ASBs at work?
According to the EWCS 2010, the proportion of women subjected to ASBs is slightly higher
(15.1%) than the proportion of men (13.3%). The difference between women and men is more
pronounced in some Scandinavian and Baltic countries. In Finland, for instance, nearly twice as
many women are subjected to ASBs than men. The difference between women and men is
partially explained by women’s higher levels of exposure to sexual harassment (Figure 3).
Figure 3: ASB by country and gender (%)
Source: EWCS 2010
Women are subjected to sexual harassment more than men, while men show higher levels of
exposure to physical violence than women. In relation to some economic sectors, significant
differences between women and men are found in education and human health and social work
activities. As will be described later, these are sectors with relatively high levels of violence and
The share of workers younger than 35 years old reporting ASB is higher (16.1%) than that of
other age groups (13.8% of those aged 35 to 49 years and 12.2% of those aged 50 years and
over). This pattern is present in most countries, with higher differences between the younger and
the older group in Scandinavian countries and the Netherlands.
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Figure 4: Age differences in reporting of ASB, by country (%)
Note: Percentages indicate the age differences in reporting of ASB between
workers younger than 35 years and older than 50.
Source: EWCS 2010
Taking into account both sex and age characteristics, younger workers, especially women, are
disproportionally affected by ASBs, especially in terms of sexual harassment. Some national
surveys confirm this pattern. In France and Norway, younger workers report being exposed to
various forms of violence and harassment more than older workers: in France, 9.4% of young
workers report verbal aggression as occurring often or ‘always’, which is 2% more than
A higher share of workers aged 3049 years report being subjected to physical aggression in
France (14.5% against a general average of 12.7%). In Slovenia, workers aged 2539 years report
the highest figures for most ASBs.
Italian and Spanish workers who are older are more likely to report being a target of bullying
and/or harassment. Surveys among teachers in Croatia and trainee doctors in Slovenia show that
young workers are more exposed to harassment in the workplace than older workers and are
probably harassed by their older colleagues, possibly because of cultural norms that still place
younger employees in a subordinate position. In Croatian schools, older employees have better,
more secure positions and have established stronger social and power networks in schools, while
younger colleagues compete more among themselves due to the job insecurity they face.
Slovenian trainee doctors report high figures of harassment for similar reasons.
At EU28 level, workers who were born in a foreign country and whose parents were born in a
foreign country (constituting 17.5% of the EWCS sample in total) are disproportionally affected
by ASBs compared to those workers born in the country they work in (13.7%). The same pattern
can be observed in most countries.
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Figure 5: Proportion of workers subjected to ASB, by country of birth for selected
countries (%)
Note: The selected countries are those in which more than 15% of workers
were born in a foreign country and at least one parent born in a foreign
Source: EWCS 2010
Only three countries report evidence about the impact of nationality on the level of exposure to
violence and harassment. In Spain, non-nationals report being victims of violence and
discrimination more than nationals. Dutch nationals are more exposed to external violence (a
synthetic indicator) than those who have a non-national background. This might be due to a
greater concentration of Dutch nationals in medium- to high-skilled positions who deal with third
parties. And 18% of Estonian nationals report that they have been harassed at some point in their
working life, while 10% of workers with a non-national background in Estonia report this.
The EWCS shows that at the EU level, workers with indefinite contracts are less subject to ASB
(14.5%) than workers with a fixed-term contract (17.1%), temporary agency workers (21.7%) and
those in an apprenticeship (22%). Interestingly, there is no significant difference between the
proportion of workers who are employed full time and part time who are subjected to ASBs.
Nevertheless, there are some exceptions. In Italy, involuntary part-time workers report the highest
figures for having noticed bullying and rights violations over their working life while in the
Netherlands, fixed-term and especially on-call employees are the most exposed to external
violence (25% and 29% respectively), while temporary agency workers are the least exposed
(16%); subsidised workers, temporary agency workers and permanent workers are most exposed
to internal violence (26%, 18% and 16% respectively), while on-call workers are exposed the
least (12%).
According to the EWCS 2010, in the EU28 the proportion of workers with a lower educational
level (that is, pre-primary) who have been subjected to ASBs 24% is higher than workers with
higher levels of educational attainment. Workers with a tertiary level of education (a university
degree or similar) are the next most likely, 16% of workers reporting being subjected to the same
type of behaviours. However, there are cases that show other patterns for specific forms of
violence and harassment. In Lithuania, the higher the level of education of the respondents in the
organisations surveyed, the greater the probability of their experiencing mobbing. This is
apparently in contrast to evidence from literature and is partly related to sectoral and occupational
specificities. In fact, many surveys highlight that exposure to violence and harassment is higher in
the education sector, where both qualifications and skills are higher than average.
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Third-party violence is increasingly an issue as both service sector and production cycle
fragmentation increase. The issue has been extensively investigated in the report Workplace
violence and the changing nature of work in Europe, whose findings contrast with most of the
national evidence reported above because of the recourse to sensitivity analysis. Women are less
likely to be exposed to third-party violence than men (a difference of 24%), while young workers
aged under 30, and especially workers in the 3044 years age group, are more likely to be
exposed (20% and 34% higher respectively) than older workers. Furthermore, fixed-term and
temporary agency workers report a lower probability (of 28% and 31% respectively) than their
permanent colleagues.
Vulnerable workers
There is a shared consensus from both national and EWCS data that workers in service sectors
experience a higher occurrence of ASBs because employees have to deal with their colleagues,
superiors and inferiors as well as third parties, and because the management of interpersonal
relationships is increasingly complex.
Figure 6: Proportion of people subjected to ASB, by sector (%)
Source: EWCS 2010
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Analysis of the EWCS 2010 shows, as illustrated in Figure 6, that the sectors where the
prevalence of ASB is much higher than the EU28 average are the following:
health and social work;
transportation and storage;
accommodation and food services;
public administration;
Research confirms these results in relation to third-party violence. At the EU15 level, Workplace
violence and the changing nature of work in Europe shows that employees in hotels and
restaurants, health, education and social care, and public administration are more likely to be
exposed to third-party violence. The evidence reported by national contributions largely confirms
The French SUMER survey provides an interesting insight. Hospitals report the highest figures,
within the public sector, for verbal and physical aggression by both internal and external
perpetrators; the public sector, in turn, reports higher figures than the overall economy.
According to the Irish Health and Safety Authority (HSA) statistics on work accidents, 44% of
violence- and bullying-related incidents occur in health and social activities, while 38% of such
incidents occur in public administration, defence and social security.
The Dutch working conditions survey (NWCS) outlines that while there is a moderate dispersion
of internal violence among sectors, third-party violence displays interesting differences in both
the public and the private sectors. In the public sector, the incidence of external violence is
significantly above average in the judicial sector, the police force and primary and secondary
education; in tertiary education, however, it is well below average. In the private sector, both the
hotels, restaurants and catering sector (horeca) and the retail sector display figures that are
significantly above average. Finally, Sweden also has higher figures in service sectors with
extensive exposure to third-party contact.
According to analysis of the EWCS 2010, within those sectors where violence and harassment is
more prevalent, some occupations are particularly exposed to ASBs. These are professionals in
the health and social work sector, service and sales workers in the transport sector, technicians
and associate professionals’ in the accommodation and food industry and service and sales
workers in public administration.
Secondary analysis based on the Danish AH2012 survey (page in Danish) shows that police and
correctional officers are among the most exposed to violence. Service workers show a high level
of exposure to sexual harassment. In Belgium, white-collar workers performing caring and
educational functions report the highest figures in the workforce for physical violence (24%),
bullying (16.9%) and sexual harassment (6.9%), while blue-collar workers report the lowest
figures for physical violence (2.9%) and sexual harassment (1.6%). The Austrian overview of the
NAQ-R shows that clerks and sales workers are among the most exposed to internal bullying
(20.4%). And according to the French Sumer 2010 survey, clerks in the service sectors report
higher levels of a ‘hostile environment (24% against a 22.3% general average).
National contributions show that in the health sector, nurses, trainee doctors and physiotherapists
report greater exposure to violent behaviours. There are several possible reasons for why the
reporting of violence and harassment by these groups should be well above national averages. In
some professions, constant contact is required with third parties, and dealing with third parties
can involve psychologically and sometimes emotionally demanding tasks, which exposes
employees to a high risk of burnout. Several countries have surveys that specifically address
Violence and harassment in European workplaces: Extent, impacts and policies
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health and social care professionals: the Czech Republic, Germany, Slovenia and the UK, but
especially Lithuania, for which four such surveys are reported.
According to a 2012 German survey among care staff, 56% experienced physical violence (63%
in inpatient geriatric care) and 78% experienced verbal aggression in the 12 months preceding the
survey. In all, 44% of respondents said they had experienced physical violence and 68%
experienced verbal aggression once per month or more.
According to a 2009 Slovenian survey among trainee doctors (372 KB PDF, in Slovenian), 70.8%
are subject to bullying during training. The most common behaviour is the withholding of
important information, making verbal attacks regarding work assignments, assigning work
assignments below or above the trainee’s capacity and spreading rumours.
According to the Czech survey Improvements in social dialogue among health professionals,
personal experience of violence increased from 25.4% in 2004 to 31.8% in 2010, verbal attacks
increased from 38.4% to 46.3% and physical violence increased from 12.2% to 16.9%, while
personal experience of mobbing/bullying, race-related humiliation and sexual harassment are
relatively stable or declining. (The survey was a diagnostic survey within the Improvement of
Social Dialogue Prevention of Violence project carried out by the non-governmental
organisation Euro Educa.)
The Lithuanian national contribution summarises findings from four surveys in the health and
care sector. According to the HI-LSMU survey among teachers and doctors in 10 Lithuanian
towns, 47.7% of the respondent doctors (45.9% of women and 35.8% of men) and 29.2% of the
respondent teachers (31.1% of women and 17.2% of men) had suffered psychological violence in
the workplace. Doctors were often exposed to psychological violence, unfair task distribution,
frequent conflicts at work, disagreements between colleagues, contradictory work demands and
office abuse by direct superiors. Meanwhile, 62.5% of mental health nurses in the Klaipeda
hospital report having suffered violence at work and 17.1% of nurses in Kaunas county are
victims of bullying. Finally, according to the survey among social workers carried out by the
Lithuanian Social Research Centre (LSRC) in 2012, around 90% had been exposed to some form
of violence at work. The most frequent types were swearing (83.1%), harassment (74.4%) and
verbal threats (57.1%).
The annual UK survey by the National Health Service (NHS) shows a considerable increase in
violent and harassing behaviour in 2012 compared to 2009. For example, 15% of staff reported
physical violence from patients, their relatives or the public in the previous 12 months, compared
with 9% in 2009. Meanwhile, 30% of staff experienced harassment, bullying and abuse from
patients, their relatives or the public in the previous 12 months (as against 19% in 2009 and 13%
in 20102011), and 23% experienced this from their colleagues (16% in 2009).
Factors that can foster violence and harassment
Literature, and national information, suggest that organisational change and certain working
conditions seem to be related to a higher level of violence and harassment at work. Figure 7
shows that different aspects of working conditions are associated with reporting ASB to differing
extents. Factors such as a decrease in income, the introduction of new processes or technologies
or experiencing substantial restructuring or reorganisation in the workplace are associated with
ASB, which means that workers exposed to these factors are more likely to report ASBs than
those who not exposed to them.
However, there is a stronger relationship between reporting ASB and indicators related to
subjective experiences, such as not having a good worklife balance, feeling that the job is at risk,
not having enough time to get the job done and thinking that the manager is not good at planning.
Reporting that one always experiences stress shows a strong association with ASB, which could
mean that in the context of a stressful work environment, workers are highly likely to report
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violence and harassment or that those who experience them are very likely to report stress. Both
statements seem to hold, as suggested by other analyses and relevant literature.
Figure 7: Reporting ASB and selected working conditions
Note: Results of logistic regression of certain aspects of working conditions
on reporting any type of ASB. Control variables for country, sector,
occupation, education, age and sex.
Figures show odds ratios. Odd ratios indicate the strength of the association
between a specific working condition and ASB in other words, the relative
probability that a worker experiencing one specific condition has of reporting
ASB in comparison to a worker who does not experience that condition. For
example, the chances of reporting ASB is almost seven times higher among
workers experiencing stress always than those who do not experience stress
Source: EWCS 2010
The findings of the Eurofound report Impact of the crisis on working conditions in Europe and
the Eurofound and EU-OSHA joint report on psychosocial risks in workplaces show that workers
have experienced: a decrease in their weekly working hours; high work intensity (but which is not
increasing overall); and greater job insecurity. However, country differences and trends make the
picture more complex. For example, in the context of the economic crisis, work intensity has been
reduced in some sectors and countries, while in others it has increased. As for worklife balance,
there is evidence of increasing difficulties in some countries partly due to the increased
participation of women in the labour market, which has not been coupled with adequate policies
or practices at the workplace and in society.
National contributions provide extensive evidence about both case studies and secondary analysis
investigating the relationships between violence and harassment and organisational factors, which
have been summarised in Table 3.
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Organisational-level factors can be clustered into three groups:
factors that increase job demands: high workload, demanding tasks, poor autonomy or job
control, unsocial hours, staff shortages, increased pressure at work to meet deadlines;
factors associated with change and increasing uncertainties: greater job insecurity,
restructuring, organisational and management change;
organisational and social resources at the workplace: managerial style and leadership
profiles, role clarity and social relationships among employees.
A good example of the interaction between work demands and violence and harassment is
provided by the Danish study on mobbing (2.95 MB PDF, in Danish). Employees who are
exposed to bullying report having greater demands at work, less influence and less social support
at work, less satisfaction with their working environment and less trust in their managers; they
also experience less organisational justice and more role conflicts. Similarly, as outlined by a
Swedish study on violence in the workplace (769 KB PDF, in Swedish) from 2010, increased
exposure to difficult working conditions reduces tolerance for additional stress in the work
environment, such as violence or threats of violence. This reduction in tolerance could also lead
to an increase in the likelihood of a person reporting cases of violence and harassment.
The Norwegian studies, especially those carried out by the University of Bergen’s Centre on
Bullying, highlight the role of leadership as an enabling factor for the insurgence of harassment
and bullying. They provide extensive evidence that harassment and bullying are largely related to
lower levels of job satisfaction and higher levels of exposure to tyrannical (or toxic, Einarsen et
al, 2007) leadership, role conflict and interpersonal conflicts at the workplace (Berthelsen et al,
2008). In these cases, violence and harassment are used as a tool of managerial control that can
supplement other control methods and approaches (Beale and Hoel, 2011, p.11). It may also be a
spontaneous response to particular situations, such as a stressful work environment due to high
demands or increasing uncertainty. Recent Italian studies report evidence on the importance of
participative management and leadership by example (Caporale et al, 2012) and of HR policies
aimed at personnel development (selection, career development, meritocracy practices, training)
in reducing the probability of violence and harassment (939 KB PDF, in Italian), while HR
practices exclusively focused on control (administration, trade union relations, vigilance) and
power centralisation increase the risk of such behaviour.
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Table 3: Main organisational risk factors and working conditions
associated with violence and harassment
risk factors and
Specific risk and country’s national contribution
Job demands
Work intensity (FR), time pressure (FI), high workload (CZ, DE, SE, SI),
physically and mentally demanding (FI), tasks work demands (FR), fear and
mental strain (DE), high quantitative demands (DE), work pressure (AT,
LT), emotionally demanding tasks (FR, IT), job mentally demanding (IT),
working with tight deadlines (IT), volume of tasks (CZ)
Unsocial hours
Night shifts (ES), shift changes (DE)
Job control (FR), low influence at work (DE), low work discretion (IT)
Job insecurity
Job insecurity, uncertainty (ES), fear of job loss (AT)
Managerial style
Tyrannical leadership (NO), managerial authoritarian styles (ES, IT),
managerial conduct (DE), limited managerial support (CZ), non-participative
leadership (IT), autocratic style (UK), abusive management (MT),
inadequate staff policy (SK)
Hostile environment (SE), internal conflicts (BE, ES, LV), poor social
relationships (DE, ES, FI, FR), poor personal relationships (SK), internal
competition (AT, BE, LV), poor/lack of communication (CZ, ES), lack of
social support (DE), rivalry among colleagues and personal resentment (AT),
poor level of cooperation (CZ), informal groups and cliques (CZ), strong
identity groups (DK)
Ambiguous job roles (ES), inappropriate work organisation and conflict
management (ES), role conflicts (DE), poor organisational structure (DE),
bad organisation (SI), staff shortage (ES)
Changes in
Changes in the organisation (FI), changes in management (CZ, FI, IT)
Restructuring (FR), offshoring (FR)
Conflicting values
Source: National contributions
The connection between restructuring and ASB is investigated by the 2012 Eurofound report
After restructuring: Labour markets, working conditions and life satisfaction, which carried out a
secondary analysis based on the fifth EWCS. Employees at workplaces that have faced
restructuring report ASBs more than those working in non-restructured workplaces. They report
1.5 times more verbal abuse, 1.6 times more unwanted sexual attention, 1.9 times more threats
and humiliating behaviour and almost twice as much bullying and harassment as people working
in a non-restructured workplace. The difference can be explained both in direct and indirect
terms. Nielsen et al (2010) explain indirect effects by considering that restructuring often involves
coercive change and reduced job security. These circumstances are stressful and may also provide
opportunities for the misuse of organisational power. Increased job demands, less control over
new tasks and possible conflicts among employees are the main factors that are indirectly linked
to restructuring. Some national-level evidence reinforces and extends these findings. The Finnish
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National Work and Health survey and a clinical overview of Italian victims of violence and
harassment who are being treated both highlight that changes in supervision and management are
associated with an increase in inappropriate or violent behaviour. The Finnish 2012 Annual
Working Life Barometer (AWLB) highlights that organisations with a poor financial situation
had more reports of bullying by both coworkers and superiors than those performing well
When turning to third parties’ abusive behaviour, the UK’s HSE shows that lone workers are
among those particularly at risk. Lone workers are a diverse group. They might be:
people working at their premises a small workshop, petrol station, kiosk or shop;
people working on their own outside normal hours cleaners and security, maintenance or
repair staff;
mobile workers (workers in construction, maintenance and repair and plant installation;
cleaning staff, postal workers, social and medical services, engineers, estate agents, and sales
or service representatives).
According to the 2012 report Workplace violence and the changing nature of work in Europe,
huge time pressure and especially a high level of exposure to third parties increase the risk of
being exposed to third-party violence (by 24% and 181% respectively).
The information presented in this section suggests that some conditions at the workplace can
increase the prevalence of violence and harassment in the workplace. In addition to such working
conditions as good management, good organisation of work, freedom from high levels of work
intensity and a good worklife balance, the national contributions also mentioned job autonomy,
social support and worker involvement as factors that help to prevent violence and harassment.
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Impacts of violence and harassment on workers and companies
According to Leymann (1992), the objective of bullying is to exclude someone from working life.
The ultimate goal of the perpetrator(s) is to discharge or internally relocate the target without any
explicit assessment of his or her behaviour or performance. A 2014 study on workplace bullying
as an antecedent to job insecurity summarises the debate by pointing out that exclusion at the
workplace leads the target to perceive that the continuity of his or her job is threatened. Work
psychologists consider powerlessness to be at the core of the notion of job insecurity.
Powerlessness is labelled as qualitative when any valued aspect of a person’s job is threatened
and as quantitative when a person is worried about losing their job.
As pointed out in a longitudinal study of intentions to leave and exclusion from working life
among targets of workplace bullying, the target of violence and harassment may suffer health
impairment with subsequent sick leave, rehabilitation or disability pension. Their working
conditions may become so unbearable that they choose to voluntarily quit the job. The strong
interconnectedness of different types of behaviour make it difficult to disentangle the impact on
health, absenteeism, motivation to work, qualitative job security and job mobility.
Figure 8: Health and well-being outcomes of workers subjected to violence or
harassment, by gender (%)
Source: EWCS 2010
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Analysis of the 2010 EWCS confirms what has been suggested in Figure 8: that the proportion of
workers reporting negative health outcomes is higher among those subjected to violence or
harassment. According to the 2014 report Psychosocial risks in Europe: Prevalence and strategies
for prevention, ASB is also related to higher levels of absenteeism and to employees’
expectations of being unable to work when they are 60 years old.
This section will shed more light on the relationship between ASB, health, absenteeism and
labour market participation, particularly at the national level. These associations are in general
confirmed by logistic regression models.
Damage to workers’ mental health
As reported in a report on the health impact of psychosocial hazards at work, there is a strong
relation between violence and harassment and the emergence of a range of mental health
stress (Hoel et al, 2001; Smith et al, 2000);
anxiety, depression, insomnia, loss of concentration (Barling et al, 1996; Richman et al, 1999;
Schneider et al, 1997);
other post-traumatic disorders, such as drug abuse, and a heightened risk for suicide (Einarsen
et al, 1994).
As outlined by the Eurofound report Physical and psychological violence at the workplace,
workers exposed to physical violence report a greater probability of mental health problems than
workers who are not exposed:
a probability of depression over three times greater (28% as against 9% respectively);
2.2 times more sleeping problems (40% and 18% respectively);
1.7 times more overall fatigue (35% and 55% respectively);
about twice the likelihood of reporting stress (52% and 26% respectively).
Those workers reporting being bullied or harassed also report a greater rate of mental health
issues than those who do not:
four times more depression (32% and 8% respectively);
almost three times more sleeping problems (47% and 16%);
almost 1.8 times more overall fatigue (62% and 34%)
over twice the likelihood of reporting stress (52% and 24%).
Most national contributions provide evidence of negative health outcomes associated with
violence and harassment. In particular, evidence provided by public institutions, especially social
security and OHS institutes, signals policymakers’ increasing concern about the impacts of
violence and harassment on health and labour market participation.
A poorer lower level of mental health is probably the most reported set of symptoms from the
information provided by national correspondents (Table 4). A good example is provided by
figures from the Spanish National Survey on Working Conditions (ENCT), where workers having
experienced any violence or harassment report 2.6 times more stress, anxiety and nervousness
than those who have not experienced them (38.2% and 14.6% respectively). Evidence is often
provided in qualitative terms: 15 national contributions out of 29 report evidence that violence
and harassment are associated with higher levels of stress and related symptoms, such as
depression and anxiety. Surveys in seven countries report sleeping problems as being common
among targets, while irritability and burnout are reported by surveys in five countries, especially
in the health and social care and education sectors. Negative impacts on targets’ personality
reported by national contributions are low self-esteem, feeling guilty or ashamed and in the
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most severe cases suicidal, especially among those lacking appropriate social and psychological
According to two 2010 studies carried out by Norwegian OHS institute STAMI, summarised in
the Eurofound article New studies on long-term effects of bullying, being bullied in the
workplace increases employees’ risk of developing mental problems later in life, especially
among those who feel that they cannot defend themselves against the bully. The findings also
show that employees who already have mental health problems are more likely to report that they
are exposed to bullying.
The impact of third-party violence on health is dealt with mainly by studies addressing health,
social care and welfare service. A survey of employees in German employment services (page in
German) found that 5.9% of victims needed medical or psychological therapy after having
experienced violence and harassment; 7.6% were still in treatment six months after the first wave
of interviews.
Table 4: Impact of violence and harassment on workers’ mental health
Impacts of ASB
Decreasing mental health in
Increased stress levels
FI, BE, BG, CY, DK, IT, LT, MT, NO, SK, SE (post-traumatic
Depression, bad mood,
Suicidal thoughts
Low self-esteem, feeling
guilty, feeling shame
Sleeping problems, insomnia,
Irritability, nervousness, hate
FR (staff in hospitals), LT (staff in education), BE, NL, UK,
Concentration, forgetting
Source: National contributions
Psychosomatic symptoms are diverse: musculoskeletal disorders (including back pain),
cardiovascular diseases and headaches are the most reported ones. Victims also report
significantly more digestion problems, chronic fatigue, dizziness and weight gain in some
countries. Victims also display a higher consumption of alcohol and drugs and take more
medicines, especially anti-depressants (Table 5).
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Table 5: Psychosomatic diseases among victims of violence and
Chronic fatigue
Digestion/stomach problems
Cardiovascular diseases
Musculoskeletal disorders, back pain
High body mass index
Psychosomatic disorders in general
Use of alcohol or drugs
Use of medicines or anti-depressants
Source: National contributions
The 2012 Finnish NWHS report outlines diverse impacts on victims’ health by type of violence
and harassment. Targets of sexual harassment, inappropriate behaviour by third parties and
threats at work report higher figures than average for both work-related stress and mental health
symptoms. Targets of bullying, inappropriate behaviour by third parties and physical violence
report more musculoskeletal disorders. According to the Netherlands Working Conditions
Survey, workers who have experienced internal violence report over three times more burnout
symptoms than non-affected workers (30.7% and 9.9% respectively). These findings are
confirmed by a longitudinal study carried out on different waves of this survey. According to the
study, general health is significantly worse for those who have experienced internal violence. In
any case, both burnout symptoms and general health tend to improve after two years, although
they are still significantly worse than for non-targets.
Two sets of results, from the Swedish Work Environment Authority and from a French study that
includes a secondary analysis of Sumer 2003 (165 KB PDF, in French) provide the widest
overview of the impact of violence and harassment on targets’ health.
According to the Swedish study, victims report severe impacts on their psychological
equilibrium, such as higher levels of anxiety, symptoms of post-traumatic stress, lower self-
confidence and an increased frequency of suicidal thoughts, as well as impacts on their physical
health, such as dizziness, problems with digestion, headaches, back pain, chronic fatigue, sleeping
disorders and a higher body mass index (BMI). These symptoms can result in longer periods of
absence from work.
The French study highlights that targets of hostile behaviours are more likely to have worse
general health conditions than the average worker. They show higher rates of absenteeism and an
increased consumption of both prescription drugs and alcohol. Furthermore, the report shows the
possible negative impacts on harassed workers when they do not receive suitable support.
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Poor motivation at work greater job turnover
The negative impact of ASBs on motivation and job satisfaction is a consolidated issue. As
outlined by studies quoted in 10 national contributions, individuals display less job satisfaction
and lower involvement in both their tasks and organisational goals. The French study carried out
by the INRS outlines that targets might become less willing to take initiative or make important
decisions. They also report professional disinvestment and isolation as frequent consequences of
persistent unaddressed harassment.
According to several Swedish studies summarised by Göransson et al (2011), targets tend to stop
accepting reciprocal obligations from their superiors, especially in cases of sexual harassment,
which reduces their willingness to make an effort, makes them careless with the company’s
resources and increases their chances of not performing their tasks correctly. Similarly, according
to a Polish survey carried out by trade union Solidarity and the Nofer Institute of Occupational
Medicine, workers more affected by psychosocial stressors such as ASBs report lower job
satisfaction. Targets also feel less emotionally involved in their work and display a survival’-
type of involvement, feeling that there are no alternative jobs open to them. Finally, according to
a German survey of workers in employment services, those who have experienced violence and
harassment, especially from third parties, perceive a lack of purpose in their work. Furthermore, a
report on bullying at work (357 KB PDF, in Spanish) from the Spanish National Institute of
Safety and Health in the Workplace (INSHT) outlines that harassment may result in demotivated
and unsatisfied individuals who find the organisational climate hostile, which negatively affects
communication and collaboration among workers. These reactions are consistent with a breach in
trust, which leads to lower commitment on the part of the employees, in terms of the withdrawal
of cooperation and higher absenteeism, and therefore lower productivity and performance or a
decision to change their employer.
This argument in support of the psychological breach of contract is outlined by a UK study on the
effect of harassment on hospital nurses, which found that workers were less likely to experience
job burnout or express an intention to leave if they believed that their employer had effective anti-
harassment policies. Similarly, according to the Swedish overview by Göransson et al (2011),
employees who received support from management were more likely to choose to stay than those
who did not receive enough support.
Poor performance is therefore a direct consequence of a poor-quality work environment, distrust
among colleagues (especially with respect to superiors) and the withdrawal of cooperation and
initiative, which are activated to a different extent as a reaction to violent or harassing behaviour,
while low motivation and lower concentration increase the probability of mistakes. Evidence
about the link between violence and harassment and company performance is available only
indirectly as derived from surveys addressed to employees by means of indicators such as job
satisfaction, the meaningfulness of the job and motivation at work.
Higher levels of temporary absence and fear of returning to work
Victims of violence and harassment at work display behavioural changes at work. They are scared
to go to work and try to avoid contact with their perpetrators and thus they report more sickness
absence (reported by surveys in seven and nine national contributions respectively). Targets also
display lower concentration levels at work and thus more work accidents (Table 6). In that
context, higher levels of presenteeism of targets in Italy and Denmark demonstrate the target’s
attempt to show that he or she does not deserve to be excluded. These outcomes, reported by
about half of the Member States, are consistent with the theoretical predictions summarised
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As outlined by the Eurofound report Physical and psychological violence at the workplace,
workers exposed to bullying and harassment and in particular physical violence, report more
and longer periods of absence from work due to work-related health problems.
Table 6: Behaviours of workers who have been subjected to violence and
Lack of concentration
Work accidents
Fear of work
Source: National contributions
A Dutch longitudinal study based on the NWCS investigates the impact of both internal and
external violence one year and two years after the attack. Victims report more symptoms of
burnout, higher levels of sickness absence, a greater intention to quit the current job, a reduced
ability to work until retirement, lower job satisfaction and worse general health. The impacts of
internal violence were wider, more severe and longer-lasting than the impacts of external
Intentions to leave one’s job
Thoughts of quitting a current job are recurrent among targets, although it may take some time
before such thoughts are triggered. As an outcome of poorer health, their feelings of isolation and
damage to their personality, targeted employees show lower productivity and often leave their
jobs or plan to do so (as indicated by the previously cited articles from Eurofound on Norwegian
research into effects of bullying and on the greater harassment reported by younger Italian
workers). Findings of Dutch research indicate that, if subjected to violence and harassment from
supervisors or colleagues, targets are less willing to work until retirement age. However,
unequivocal and statistically grounded evidence about early dropouts from the labour market is
not yet available.
Several national contributions highlight that targets are more likely to express their intention to
quit their current job:
in Germany’s regional public administration;
in the health care sector in Sweden (300 KB PDF, in Swedish);
in Norway;
the Finnish NWHS 2012;
the Italian Istat ad hoc module;
a Polish survey carried out by trade union Solidarity and the Nofer Institute of Occupational
The longitudinal studies based on the Dutch NWCS indicate that targets of internal violence show
a 60% greater intention to quit than people who are not targets one year after the attack; more
than two years after the event, the intention is still 41% greater. Targets of external violence show
an intention to quit that is 21% greater than non-targets one year after the attack. Similarly,
according to the previously cited UK study on the effect of harassment on hospital nurses, nurses
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at the NHS who had experienced harassment were between two and four times more likely to
express an intention to leave their job than those that had not.
A report by the Swedish Work Environment Authority points out that victims of bullying and
harassment leave their jobs more frequently than on average, and that those who leave their jobs
due to bullying or harassment also report higher levels of anxiety and depression than those who
remain at their workplace. This might suggest that quitting the job actually increases negative
feelings (Göransson et al, 2011, p. 37).
According to the Italian Istat ad hoc survey (160 KB PDF, in Italian), targets experience job loss
more often than perpetrators:
16% of targets resigned (21.5% in the case of task deprivation);
5.2% were fired;
2.2% did not get their labour contract renewed;
5.3% were transferred to another sector;
6.8% reported that the perpetrators had been transferred or fired.
Women resigned more than twice as often as men (22.4% and 10.9% respectively).
Two Danish studies in the elder care sector found that violence and harassment predict both
dropouts two years later (Hogh et al, 2012) and an increase in the risk of higher staff turnover
(Clausen et al, 2012). These findings were confirmed by a study among offshore oil workers in
Norway, where workers who had been bullied six months earlier reported both a greater feeling
of job insecurity and a greater intention to leave.
The evidence reported by both national contributions and academic reviews shows a clear
connection between the experience of violence and harassment and the intention to quit and
actually quitting a job. This is consistent with the Leyman hypothesis formulated above.
Differences at national level may emerge as a consequence of both legal frameworks and work-
related stereotypes. Furthermore, most surveys investigating violence and harassment address
people in employment, while people who have lost their jobs are often ignored. An interesting
piece of information about people who have lost their job is provided by the Czech survey
STAM/MARK: unemployed people in 2011 and people on parental and maternity leave in 2013
show the highest levels of experience of violence and harassment.
The cost of violence and harassment
It is difficult to estimate the actual costs of violence and harassment both for companies and
national economies due to the extent of under-reporting and because of the difficulties in
ascertaining that violence and harassment were the actual driving causes for work incapacity. A
2008 study on the costs of workplace bullying is the most complete exercise using an inductive
approach. By considering only those costs associated with absenteeism, turnover and productivity
loss, the authors estimated a loss of GBP 17.65 billion (22 billion as at 18 December 2014) to
the UK economy, equating to a loss of 1.5% of GDP.
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Public measures: Legislation and prevention policies
Mapping Member States’ policies that address violence and harassment at work is complex, as
the issues range from the establishment of a suitable legal framework, including a definition, to
forms of protection and the design of prevention policies.
Prevention policies are set along three main criteria:
the inclusion of a specific role for the employer in preventing psychosocial risks in general
by the presence of a legislative framework, by promoting preventive measures and by raising
awareness among workers and employers;
the scope of intervention and their content;
the actors that are actively contributing to both their establishment and implementation
governmental institutions, social partners and NGOs, who may act unilaterally or in bipartite
or tripartite social dialogue.
A combined analysis of the legal framework and prevention policies, coordinated between
governmental institutions and social partners, allows several strategic patterns to be identified. An
analysis of organisational and psychosocial risks in labour law outlines the importance of the
legal framework. A lack of specific legislation addressing violence and harassment at work
negatively affects claimants’ chances of success, both in court and when applying for work
incapacity, because of the difficulties in proving them. Furthermore, that same lack of specific
legislation might reduce the chances of prevention policies being implemented effectively.
National laws on health and safety, labour laws and criminal codes often provide only general
provisions to protect psychological health and human dignity without suggesting detailed
interventions at workplaces to prevent and tackle violence and harassment. Furthermore, as
pointed out by Lerouge (2013), case law has an important role at national level when the legal
framework is imprecise, as it provides judges’ interpretations of the law and the adaptation of the
general law to each specific case.
This section first maps the national prevention strategies in tackling violence and harassment on
the basis of their main regulatory characteristics and the configuration of national governance. It
then describes the contribution of social dialogue to policy design and implementation, especially
by means of social dialogue at EU, national and company levels, with a specific review of
guidelines and actions both at company and sectoral level.
Recent changes in general and workplace legislation
Legislative changes since 2008 that address violence and harassments can be grouped according
to their scope:
changes in the general legislation in France, Greece and Italy;
changes in workplace legislation in Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Denmark, Ireland, Slovenia,
Spain and the UK;
changes affecting both general and workplace legislation in Finland and Norway.
These changes have taken place in criminal, discrimination, labour or OHS law, depending on the
country’s approach to legislating on violence and harassment. Most countries include violence
and harassment in criminal-, discrimination- or equal treatment-related legislation (for example,
Germany); some include it in the employment law (France); others tackle the problem through
specific OHS legislation (Belgium). Anti-discrimination legislation has become more relevant,
addressing violence and harassment based on the EU equal treatment directives. The coverage of
the topic differs from country to country. Some countries make very generic references, while
others include specific provisions on preventive measures and employers’ responsibilities.
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Increasingly, in some countries OHS legislation mentions psychosocial risks as part of the generic
provisions on risks assessment (for example, the Netherlands).
In terms of changes in the legislation addressing violence and harassment from a general
perspective (not only the workplace), a broader definition of sexual harassment was introduced in
France in 2010. Greek law 3896/2010 reversed the burden of proof from the victim to the alleged
perpetrator. Italian law 38/2009 introduced the crime of stalking (recurring and obsessive bullying
and harassment), while law 119/2013 in Italy addressed the murders of women, often as the end
point in a case of stalking. The impact of this Italian legislation on workplaces is still unclear: in
2005 Italian courts invalidated the 2003 guidelines of the national work accident insurance
scheme (Inail), which aimed to prevent psychosocial risks.
Turning to legislative changes addressing the workplace in the various types of legislation,
incremental revisions can be distinguished from in-depth revisions. In terms of incremental
revisions, a 2013 amendment to the Bulgarian criminal code that criminalises physical assaults to
physicians and teachers can be included. However, the amendment does not introduce any
provision for legal reparations. Croatia, Ireland and Spain introduced a definition of harassment at
work. For example, the 2012 Irish order integrates a definition of sexual harassment and
harassment in the workplace with guidelines on prevention actions to ensure that adequate
procedures are readily available to deal with the problem and to prevent its recurrence without
imposing any legal obligation. Finally, after a new law on the organisation of working
environment efforts was passed in Denmark in 2010, the 2011 executive order states that ‘work
must be conducted in such a manner that it ensures that the work does not cause a risk for mental
or physical health impairment due to mobbing, including sexual harassment’, thus introducing a
specific reference to violence and harassment at work.
In Slovenia, the revision has been more in depth. The 2008 amendment to the Criminal Code
regulates mobbing at the workplace: sexual harassment, psychological violence, bullying or
unequal treatment, which causes humiliation or fear in another person, are punishable by up to
two years’ imprisonment. The 2011 law on health and safety at work more specifically stipulates
the employer’s responsibility for the protection of and provision for employees dignity at work.
Finally, the 2013 amendment of the Employment Relationships Act prohibits violence and
harassment at work by providing legal definitions.
In the UK, the 2010 extension of the Equality Act to third-party aggression introduced a
substantive change in the approach by making the employer liable for harassment by a third party
if it had occurred on two or more previous occasions and if the employer was aware of the
behaviour and had not taken reasonable steps to prevent it from happening again. The Act was
repealed in 2013.
Finally, new legislation came into force in Belgium in September 2014 that placed violence and
harassment in the more general framework of psychosocial risks. Employers have to recognise
violence and harassment just like any other risk to employees’ health. The new legislative
framework introduces a counsellor for psychosocial risks, mandates a five-day compulsory
training for confidence counsellors and extends the definition of ‘moral harassment’. Workers
reporting any abusive attack benefit from shorter response times by the prevention counsellor,
who has to carry out an inspection unless the employer takes suitable measures, offers better
protection against retaliation and sets the right to compensation.
Finland and Norway combine legislative changes both at general and at workplace level. In
Finland, the right to compensation is extended to third parties’ aggressions, thus complementing
the special ‘harassment at work’ section of the 2002 Finnish Occupational Safety and Health Act,
which obliges the employer to take action after becoming aware of harassment or other
inappropriate behaviour at the workplace.
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Public prevention policies, actors and activities in Europe
In this section, countries are classified according to their national legislation framework related to
violence and harassment and actors involved in policy development. An overall assessment of the
policy development in the countries shows that most of the countries lack long-term, systematic
prevention policies with a high level of coordination between governments and social partners.
As pointed out by Lerouge (2013), national legislation regulates these behaviours consistently
with their general and OHS framework and regulatory traditions. Member States can be put into
three main groups:
countries without any legal definitions of violence and harassment at work but with a strong
focus on prevention in the work environment (the Scandinavian countries, Estonia and the
countries with at least some legal definitions of violence and harassment at work (Belgium,
France, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Malta, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia and Spain), while
prevention policies mainly rely on general OHS provisions, except for Ireland and Belgium;
countries that do not rely on any specific legal definitions or violence and harassment at work
provided by the general legislation (all other countries) and rely on general OHS provisions
for prevention policies instead.
If OHS or work environment legislation alone is considered, governmental intervention at the
workplace moves along three main lines.
The prevention of psychosocial risks in general: This is done by considering violence and
harassment among the possible causes generating stress. This is a default option unless national
legislation and OHS authorities address specific measures (as in Austria, Germany, Luxembourg
and the UK as well as all the southern and eastern countries).
The promotion of non-binding measures encouraging employers’ actions: An example of this
is the Irish code of conduct set by the Health and Safety Authority (HSA), which acts as a non-
binding recommendation.
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A legal obligation on the employer to intervene (beyond general risk prevention): The 2010
Danish Work Environment Act states that work must be conducted in such a manner that it
ensures that the work does not cause a risk for mental or physical health impairment due to
mobbing, including sexual harassment. Such an obligation is complemented by a strong role of
national OHS agencies in terms of monitoring, advice, issuing guidelines and recommendations,
and inspective powers, thus ensuring their implementation. It is reported in the Scandinavian
countries, Belgium, France and the Netherlands. National working environment agencies in these
countries monitor and inspect prevention by using the definitions used by researchers.
The development of partnerships among social actors (public institutions, social partners and civil
society organisations) is part of effective prevention strategy implementation. Extensive
partnerships are part of a deliberative process aimed at constructing a shared understanding of
abusive behaviours, its causes and consequences. The density of the network of partnerships is an
important indicator for implementing policy measures successfully.
Five national-level patterns of governance for prevention policy can be identified (Table 7).
Decentralised activities: Initiatives are carried out by social partners (mainly at company level)
by means of social dialogue and/or unilaterally. This is the case for Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech
Republic, Latvia and Slovakia. NGOs play an important role in these countries by keeping social
partners and governments focused on the issue through promoting initiatives and supplying
resources for training and awareness-raising.
Weakly coordinated prevention policies: The coordinating actor could be a public institution,
either at national (Austria, Cyprus, Hungary) or local level (Italy), or social partners at inter-
sectoral level, as in Luxembourg. In Luxembourg, the association Mobbing Asbl (page in French)
plays a pivotal role in spreading information about violence and harassment and guidelines
supporting social partners’ action. In Poland, a social partner joint group established an anti-
mobbing procedure. It is worth noting that in Austria and Italy, the public institutions mainly act
by promoting good practices at company level.
Public initiatives only: Government bodies, usually labour inspectorates, issue guidelines in
order to tackle violence and harassment. This is the case for Estonia, Greece, Lithuania, Portugal
and Romania.
Government initiatives integrated and complemented by the social partners: These can take
the form of bipartite prevention initiatives at inter-sectoral level (Belgium, Denmark, France and
the Netherlands), by social dialogue in some sectors (Slovenia, Spain and Sweden) or unilateral
actions by social partners (Ireland).
Coordinated governmental initiatives with social partners: (These may sometimes involve
other civil society organisations). This is the case for the United Kingdom, as summarised by the
Dignity at Work Partnership, the world’s largest anti-bullying project, and the joint initiatives of
the HSE, the Advisory Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) and social partners,
summarised in Preventing workplace harassment and violence (552 KB PDF). In Finland and
Norway, NGOs are also involved in taking joint actions by establishing tripartite plus
partnerships (Baccaro, 2001), which reinforces their systematic efforts in tackling violence and
harassment. In Germany, there is a high level of coordination between the government and social
partners because of the way its institutions operate. Social security institutions issuing guidelines
are a bipartite option, while the Joint Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Strategy (GDA, 34.3
KB PDF) is jointly supported by the German government, the federal states and accident
insurance institutions, mostly established on a bipartite basis.
Table 7 combines general or specific obligations to prevent violence and harassment at work and
the way actors contribute to the design and implementation of prevention policies.
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Table 7: Policies grouped by coordination of actors and employer
General obligation
Specific obligation
Weak coordination
Only public actors
Governmentsocial partners integration
Government and tripartite actors
Notes: *Only 20102013. Ireland is not included in this table because it did not fit
under either a specific or general obligation.
Source: National contributions, EU-OSHA report, Workplace violence and
harassment: A European picture, Lerouge (2013)
In countries where coordination among actors is weak, legislation and related obligations tend to
be general. In contrast, in countries where the legislative framework addresses violence and
harassment specifically, employers have a clear obligation to implement preventative measures in
relation to violence and harassment. Civil society organisations often play an important role in
designing a continuum of intervention in this context. Within the group where governmental
action is complemented by bipartite social partner activities, there may be just a general employer
duty on OHS, a specific duty addressing violence and harassment as part of the work environment
or psychosocial risk prevention, or just a public recommendation-based approach, as in Ireland.
Finally, the UK displays a specific pattern after the 2010 Equality Act, which imposed a specific
duty on the employer; however, this was repealed in 2013 with the national simplification
strategy on OHS.
Countries can be grouped into three main categories (Table 8):
Piecemeal prevention activities: These are associated with countries where these actions are
implemented at a decentralised level and where prevention policies address only sexual
harassment (such as Cyprus and Greece).
Non-systematic prevention policies: National-level coordination is established but there is no
obligation to have preventative actions addressing violence and harassment specifically at
workplace level or to frame them explicitly within psychosocial risks. Policies mainly address
secondary prevention and information dissemination. This group is diverse, ranging from
Member States where prevention policies are at an early stage, such as Lithuania and Poland, to
countries where they are quite consolidated, as in Ireland and the UK.
Long-term systematic prevention policies: These can be found when legal obligations are
specifically focused on violence and harassment and combined with broad-spectrum activities
addressing both primary and secondary prevention in an integrated form (such as Belgium, the
Netherlands and the Scandinavian countries. Primary-level interventions are proactive by nature
and aim to prevent exposure to different occupational hazards by reducing the risks. In relation to
harassment, the aim of primary-level intervention is to minimise the risks of this. Secondary-level
interventions aim to modify an individual’s response to harmful work environment factors. In the
case of harassment, this might also mean slowing down the progression and escalation of the
harassment situation and preventing the ill-health of individuals or the work unit from becoming
more serious. Finally, tertiary-level interventions are reactive in nature and aim to reduce or
minimise the negative health effects associated with chronic exposure to psychosocial risks
(Eurofound, 2014).
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Table 8: Type of public prevention policies
Type of policies
Piecemeal prevention
(including early-stage
Non-systematic prevention
Long-term systematic
prevention policies
Source: National contributions
Member States with long-term systematic prevention policies use a wide range of interventions at
multiple levels with the aim of addressing each specific problem related to violence and
harassment at work by providing specific guidelines and orientations for prevention.
In Denmark, a country with a long-term systematic approach, the Working Environment
Authority (WEA) has developed guidelines on mobbing and harassment 2012 (in Danish). The
guidelines cover mobbing and sexual harassment between employees and between employees and
managers. They describe how to prevent mobbing and harassment for example, by using
conflict resolution and having clear rules for acceptable behaviour at work. Finally, the guidelines
also explain what to do if mobbing and sexual harassment occurs. Violence is considered to be a
work accident and the WEA guidelines on work-related violence 2011 (in Danish) cover physical
and mental violence initiated by clients or customers (not between employees or managers). The
guidelines define the concept of work-related violence, list occupations characterised by a high
risk of work-related violence, and outline health-related reactions to violence and how companies
might prevent and follow up on episodes of violence. WEA guidelines are based on regulations,
but are not binding. Also in Denmark, the government launched prevention packages targeting
sectors with a high risk of work impairment due to violence and harassment. In 2013 the Fund for
a Better Working Environment and Labour Market Retention launched a new package to prevent
violence in elder care and residential institutions (in Danish). Companies participating in the
package will get advice from a consultant and must follow a plan to prevent violence.
In 2008, France an example of a country with a non-systematic policy approach amended the
labour code to introduce a specific legal duty on the employer to prevent moral harassment.
Public prevention policies addressing ASBs are mainly focused on providing information, such as
the INRS report on the consequences of harassment or violence at work (in French) mentioned
above for the benefit of both employers and Committee for Hygiene, Safety and Working
Conditions (CHSCTs), and on violence against women, as defined by the national plan 2011
2013 (in French). There is no evidence of a consolidated network that includes social partners in
promoting primary prevention at workplaces. Rather, as Lerouge (2013) points out, the
introduction of legal definitions increased the recourse to courts.
In the Czech Republic, an example of a country using piecemeal interventions, the Work and
Relations NGO (in Czech) focuses on mobbing, bullying, whistle-blowing and bossing. In order
to spread information on the topic, the NGO carries out video interviews with people who
experienced mobbing at work and puts them online. Similarly, the online consultancy Bullying at
Work Mobbing-Free Company (in Czech) has been established both for victims or witnesses of
bullying and for managers who would like to prevent bullying in their establishments. The
association provides guidance, organises lectures and carries out case studies in companies.
Social partners in the health service sector jointly implemented a project between 2010 and 2012,
funded by the European Social Fund (ESF), aimed at preventing violence at workplaces in health
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and social services through social dialogue. There has been a follow-up project since 2012 on the
prevention of violence by third parties in Prague (in Czech), supported by Norway Grants and
realised by the Union of Employers’ Associations of the Czech Republic (UZS) together with the
Trade Union of Health and Social Care (OSZSP) and Norwegian partners in organisations
providing health and social care.
Social partner initiatives
As discussed above, the 2007 autonomous framework agreement on harassment and violence at
work was signed by the European social partners ETUC/CES, BUSINESSEUROPE, UEAPME
and CEEP. It marked a turning point for both social partners’ actions and public prevention
policies at national level in some countries. As explained in the 2011 implementation report of the
framework agreement (300 KB PDF) compiled by the social partners, the agreement fits into a
larger framework of existing national and EU legislation (for example, directives on non-
discrimination and health and safety at work). In many countries, implementing measures have
focused on assessing and in some cases fine-tuning existing regulations in line with the
framework agreement. It has thus proven useful among Member States by increasing awareness
about harassment and violence and by initiating actions in a number of sectors and countries.
In 2010, EU-level employer and trade union organisations signed multi-sectoral guidelines to help
tackle third-party violence and harassment at work. The guidelines set out the practical steps that
can be taken by employers, workers and their representatives or trade unions to reduce, prevent
and mitigate problems, including new forms of violence and harassment, such as cyberbullying.
At sectoral level in July 2013, the European social partners in the maritime sector the European
Transport Workers’ Federation (ETF) and the European Community Shipowners’ Associations
(ECSA) launched a project aimed at eradicating harassment and bullying practices in the
workplace in the maritime industry. First, they updated their training toolkit, including guidelines,
a video and an associated workbook. The video on saying ‘No to harassment and bullying
includes new types of violence and harassment, like cyberbullying, while the guidelines provide
information on how to identify incidents of harassment and bullying and how to implement
formal and informal processes of resolution of the case. The project also includes dissemination
activities and the establishment of a 24/7 helpline.
At national level, social partners’ contributions can take various forms in regulatory terms, by
providing actual contributions through social dialogue and by influencing government policies, or
by taking a wide range of actions. Guidelines and campaigns are the most commonly used tools,
which aim to improve awareness and skills on these issues. Pilot interventions at sectoral level are
also taking place. In some cases, the social partners develop support activities for workers and
create networks at national level. These activities can be grouped as in Table 9 by combining
regulatory patterns and the level of intervention.
Table 9: Social partners actions by level of activities and regulatory pattern
Regulatory pattern
partners and
Bipartite (social
Trade unions
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Source: National contributions
Recent tripartite activities
Between 2010 and 2011 in Finland, a wide network of social partners and the government
organised a countrywide training tour and published a leaflet called Good behaviour preferred
inappropriate behaviour unacceptable (639 KB PDF).
The UK Dignity at Work Partnership, promoted by trade union UNITE with the financial support
of the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR), includes
representatives from the HSE, ACAS, TUC and BERR. The partnership encourages employee
representatives and employers to build cultures in which respect for individuals is regarded as an
essential part of the conduct of all those who work in the organisation. It provides advice and
guidance for anyone suffering from workplace bullying or harassment and develops an
employers code of conduct by bringing all parties together.
Recent bipartite, national and sector-level activities
As a consequence of the European framework agreement, social partners in France concluded a
national agreement on harassment at work (173 KB PDF, in French) in March 2010, which was
extended by the Ministry of Labour in July of the same year. It thus applies to all companies in
France. Unions and employers agreed that employers have to communicate to their workforce
that harassment and violence at work will not be tolerated. Employers must also develop a set of
appropriate prevention measures. These measures include an appropriate follow-up on harassment
claims, respecting confidentiality, taking the views and opinions of all parties concerned into
account, sanctions against false accusations, the possibility of obtaining third-party opinions from
outside the workplace and access to mediation. The employer is responsible for handling claims
and monitoring an appropriate response and is asked to consult with its workforce or their
In 2012, the Belgian National Employment Council evaluated legislation on preventing violence
and harassment (184 KB PDF, in French). The social partners recommended a concrete,
attainable policy based on existing instruments. They underlined the importance of prevention by
hiring a prevention advisor and the importance of informal deliberation through a confidential
counsellor for cases of harassment and mobbing at work. Concrete procedures are not only
needed in case of complaints, but also in concrete preventative (informal) actions. People must
become conscious of violence and harassment, recognise the problem and flag an incident at an
early stage.
In Poland, social partners launched a new phase of negotiations concerning stress at work by
establishing a permanent bipartite committee in 2013. One of the important outcomes achieved by
the team was the development of a model of an anti-mobbing procedure that employers and trade
unions are advised to apply at company level.
In Luxembourg, social partners in the banking sector signed an agreement on moral harassment
in September 2013, transposing the 2009 cross-industry collective agreement. It defines moral
harassment, makes rules for prevention and outlines employers duty of prevention by requiring
them to adopt a declaration that moral harassment will not be tolerated in the enterprise and by
making them introduce measures to raise employee awareness, implement training on prevention
and protection and appoint a ‘discussion partner’ with the authority to deal with the issue. Finally,
employers must also define the ‘means and procedures made available to the victim’ within
reference standards set out in the agreement and penalties may be imposed on the perpetrator of
acts of moral harassment. The agreement also created a counselling body, the Association for
Health at Work in the Financial Sector (ASTF), which gives free advice anonymously to the
victims with the support of a psychologist (see also the Eurofound article on social partners
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involvement in pension system reform). However, initiatives at sectoral level are more often
developed in the health and care and transport sectors.
In Bulgaria, the 20122014 collective agreement in the transport sector includes a special chapter
on ‘Protection against violence at the workplace and gender equality’, which foresees provisions
for joint actions by employers and trade unions to prevent violence and harassment within a zero-
tolerance approach, complemented by joint actions tackling violence and harassment against
women working on the Sofia urban transport system.
Recent guidelines, campaigns and support by social partners
In 2010 the Austrian social partner organisations published a joint brochure, Harassment and
violence at the workplace: Instruments for prevention, which is a contribution to the
implementation of the 2007 EU framework agreement. The network of employer organisations
and trade unions in the health and social services sector, MOBnet, offers information on methods
for prevention and intervention against workplace bullying and harassment on a dedicated
website and intends to take actions against bullying and harassment at the workplace.
In Ireland, the Irish Business and Employers Confederation (IBEC) advises its members on the
issue of bullying, harassment and sexual harassment in the workplace through an employment
law guideline, which was updated in 2013. This guideline addresses the following:
the identification of the legal position and definitions of bullying, harassment and sexual
how to recognise bullying and harassing behaviour;
the effects of bullying and harassment on the individual and organisation;
codes of practice on workplace bullying, harassment and sexual harassment.
The Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) formed an advisory commission on stress, bullying
and violence at work in 2010 in order to:
assess the effectiveness of prevention measures and the current legal framework, risk
assessment and codes of practice on workplace bullying, stress and violence;
identify any weaknesses in workplace procedures;
recommend improvements to the legal framework, codes of practice and dispute resolution
identify specific measures that unions can take to intervene or respond to incidences of
bullying and violence in the workplace and in respect of workplace stress.
In Spain in 2011, the General Union of Workers (UGT), together with experts on this issue,
elaborated Prevention Notes 891 and 892 for the National Institute of Safety and Hygiene at
Work (INSHT), which present a procedure for resolving psychological and physical violence
conflicts at the workplace internally and independently. The UGT has offered specific training
courses on this process.
In Norway, the Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions (LO) has prepared an information
brochure about bullying and harassment entitled What can employee representatives do?.
In Sweden, initiatives amongst social partners since 2010 have had different focuses. Many
unions have focused more on bullying or harassment between colleagues or between employees
and managers than on threats and violence. One example is A handbook in how to handle ASB:
Bullied, harassed, ignored what should you do?, published by the Public Employees
Negotiation Council (OFR). Another example is the handbook When someone is being bullied at
work, published by the Swedish Trade Union Confederation.
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In Denmark, the Danish Sectoral Bipartite Work Environment Council (in Danish) continuously
produces and distributes materials on working environment issues, including violence and
harassment. These initiatives include workplace meetings on violence and different publications
on mobbing and other types of violence and harassment.
Actions in the transport and health sectors
It seems that activities that try to prevent and tackle violence and harassment are concentrated in
sectors where interpersonal relations play an important role for the company, both in terms of
relationships among workers and those with customers and clients. As such, many examples can
be found in the transport and health sectors.
In the transport sector, the Austrian trade union Vida (covering transport, social, personal and
private services) launched the project Together against violence at the workplace. It addresses
all forms of violence and harassment and aims to raise awareness of the issue and illustrate the
everyday strain employees suffer from. It includes a survey (AT1 in Table A.1 in Annex 1) and a
dedicated website with information on the legal situation of companies, and examples of best
practice and of the personal experiences of employees and works councils (in German).
In Spain, the General Union of Workers (UGT) and the Trade Union Confederation of Workers’
Commissions (CCOO), together with the federation of passenger transport companies (Asintra)
and the national business federation of bus transport, (Fenebús), in 2010 published a protocol for
preventing violence at work among Spanish bus drivers (235 KB PDF, in Spanish).
In the Czech Republic’s health sector, a joint project between the social partners (202 KB PDF,
in Czech) was promoted with the support of the European Social fund. Between 2010 and 2012, it
aimed to prevent violence at workplaces in the sector through social dialogue. It also includes a
survey (CZ2 in Table A.1 in Annex 1). Since 2012 the project has been followed by the
Prevention of violence by third parties in Prague project (in Czech), supported by Norway Grants
and realised by the Union of Employer Associations of the Czech Republic (UZS) together with
the Union of Health and Social Care (OSZSP) and Norwegian partners in health and social care.
In the health sector, trade unions also launched unilateral projects in Bulgaria, Finland, the
Netherlands and Slovenia. In Slovenia, a partnership between the Healthcare Trade Union, the
SOS Association and the Chamber of Nursing and Midwifery Services of Slovenia prepared a
joint project, ‘Advisory phone for people with experience of violence at the workplace’, which
provides support and information to people who have been victims of any kind of harassment or
violence at work or would like to stop the violence and take action. The Association of Free
Trade Unions also carried out a project, Workers' safety representatives’ training for better
occupational health of workers (98.2 KB PDF, in Slovenian), cofinanced by the Health Insurance
Institute of Slovenia, which started in 2013 and ended in November 2014. The project aimed to
enhance workers’ occupational health and to increase the number of workers with an elected
worker safety representative. The trade union has already established an e-network of workers’
safety representatives and will provide them with professional training.
According to an international 2013 seminar on workplace bullying and harassment (2.51 MB
PDF), training addressed to both management and health and safety representatives and the
implementation of anti-bullying policies and guidelines seem to be the strategies that are used
most often in European workplaces to tackle workplace bullying. However, few studies have
examined the effectiveness of these interventions. Some evidence has been found for a reduction
in bullying when policies are used as part of a broader zero-tolerance approach, with, for
example, compulsory training for all personnel. It has also been suggested that a well-designed
and coordinated anti-bullying policy can work effectively, but conversely, a policy that is
designed by one department in isolation from users and other service providers can have no
impact at all (Rayner and Lewis, 2011).
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Procedures and measures in the workplace
In this section, findings about the procedures in place in companies to tackle violence and
harassment are presented, drawing from the ESENER survey developed by EU-OSHA. An
attempt to link them to national policy context is then carried out.
The EU-OSHA ESENER survey, launched in 2009, complements the Eurofound EWCS in
providing a comparative framework on prevention policies at company level among employers
with more than 10 employees namely, the presence of a confidential counsellor, as foreseen by
the 2007 framework agreement, and the establishment of procedures for conflict resolution and
for dealing with third-party violence, bullying and harassment.
The survey found that, at company level, there is a positive relationship between the presence of
procedures and company size, with the highest presence in the biggest companies, except in
Bulgaria (both bullying/harassment and violence), Lithuania (bullying and harassment) and
Poland (violence).
It also found that in the EU27, 30% of establishments had procedures in place to deal with
bullying and harassment at work. Procedures were most common in companies in the
Scandinavian countries and Belgium and less observed in the southern and eastern countries as
well as in some continental countries, such as Austria and Germany. Procedures to deal with
violence are less widespread than procedures dealing with bullying and harassment at the
Procedures to cope with bullying and harassment are more widespread in the public sector than in
the private sector. This is observed both in countries with a good proportion of companies with
procedures and in those countries with a low prevalence of procedures in companies. If the
private sector is examined, procedures are usually more frequent in the service sectors than in
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Figure 9: Proportion of companies with procedures to deal with bullying/harassment and
work-related violence (%)
Source: ESENER 2009
When the relationship between legislative measures and public policies is analysed with the
ESENER findings, it transpire that all countries with a long-term strategy have a high rate of
companies with procedures to deal with work-related violence and bullying. This is true for
Finland, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden, while Denmark is just above the EU
average because of the relatively high number of small and micro firms. Thus, long-term and
systematic policies tend to increase the probability that procedures are implemented at company
Table 10: Procedures in companies to combat violence and harassment by
type of coordination of national prevention policies
Below EU average
Above EU average
Early stage activities
Non-systematic policies
Long-term, systematic
Source: National contributions, ESENER 2009
According to the ESENER, confidential counselling for employees is present in 25% of all
establishments in the EU and a conflict resolution procedure has been established in 28% of
cases. They are both relevant, as they implement a suggestion from the 2007 framework
agreement and pave the way for a management alternative to legal action, where the targets’
chances of success are quite low. In general, both are more widespread as company size
increases, except in Bulgaria and the Czech Republic for conflict resolution procedures and in
Malta, Poland, Portugal and Romania for both.
There is a lot of variability among EU countries, which can be better highlighted by grouping
countries according to their public prevention policies (Table 11).
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Table 11: Conflict resolution and confidential counsellors at the workplace,
by type of national prevention policies
Confidential counsellors
Conflict resolution procedures
Below EU
Above EU
Below EU
Above EU
Piecemeal activities
Non-systematic policies
Long-term, systematic
Source: National contributions, ESENER 2009
Among the countries with prevention strategies that are still at an early stage, Bulgaria, Cyprus
and Romania show figures that are above the EU average for both confidential counselling and a
conflict resolution procedure, thus highlighting a cluster of employers that are giving attention to
secondary prevention issues on violence and harassment. Countries with long-term, systematic
prevention policies display some differences, either due to the extent of micro firms (as in
Denmark) or the establishment of functionally equivalent alternatives, such as workers
representatives, which are widespread in small and micro companies, as outlined by the
Eurofound report Social dialogue in micro and small companies. The low presence of conflict
resolution procedures in the Netherlands is consistent with national expert findings, outlining the
relatively limited activism of social partners at company level, while the presence of workers
representatives is around the EU average.
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Impact of awareness and sociocultural characteristics
The public discussion and political debate surrounding a topic can indicate the level of awareness
of it. Discussion and debate also have the potential to raise awareness about a specific subject.
Interestingly, the issue of harassment and violence is not part of the main public discussions or
political debates in most Member States, except for the Scandinavian countries, France, Belgium
and the Netherlands.
Awareness also impacts on the level of reporting violence and harassment. The more information
people have about the topic and its causes and consequences, the more likely it is that people will
report an incident as violent or harassing behaviour. Strong sociocultural attitudes, stereotypes
and pressures can impact on the level of violence and harassment both positively and negatively.
For instance, condemning violent behaviours and supporting targets regardless of their social,
political, economic and cultural background can lead to higher levels of reporting. On the other
hand, tolerating and covering up violent behaviour can lead to lower levels of reporting for
multiple reasons, as outlined below.
Awareness of and level of violence and harassment
Awareness of the causes and consequences of violence and harassment at work varies greatly
among Member States. Awareness is generally low in southern and eastern European countries
and tends to increase in Scandinavian countries, the Netherlands and the UK. The criteria used for
classifying awareness as high or low is based on:
information and knowledge about the problem in society (for example, academic reviews,
the level of general sociocultural tolerance;
the extent of discussions and policies among both social partners and governments, reflected
in campaigns, social partner agreements and initiatives, multistakeholder actions and
legislation (see the section on public measures).
Lack of information and limited knowledge about the phenomenon are the most reported reasons
for low levels of awareness in southern European countries such as Cyprus, Malta and Portugal
and eastern European countries like Estonia, Hungary and Lithuania. But in these countries, as
shown in Bulgaria, employees and management have started to think about the causes and
consequences and to act, especially in cases of extreme physical assaults and injuries and in
professions that are the most exposed to third parties, such as health, public transport, and
financial and retail services. Employees in these countries display limited awareness, or none,
about the employers responsibility to prevent and tackle violence and harassment.
Lack of societal sanctions towards abusive behaviours is probably the most widespread indication
of a lack of societal awareness. Many work psychologists (see Giorgi, 2008) consider tolerance or
indifference to be key factors. In some countries, this is associated with the feeling that such
behaviours are just part of the job (especially from third parties in care activities) or of the work
environment, especially in the Member States that have transitioned towards capitalism, such as
Bulgaria, the Czech Republic and Slovenia. Tolerance and indifference are mostly reported in
some southern countries (Greece, Italy, Malta, Portugal) and in some eastern countries (Bulgaria,
Croatia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Lithuania, Slovenia). Such tolerance is sometimes based
on prejudices and stereotypes, as reported by contributions from Cyprus, Estonia and Lithuania.
A serious outcome of this lack of sanctions against perpetrators is the widespread reporting
among Member States of re-victimisation affecting attacked workers, mostly concentrated in
some southern and eastern Member States (Italy, Malta and Portugal; and Bulgaria, Croatia,
Estonia and Slovakia).
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On the other hand, tolerance towards these behaviours is very low in Finland and Sweden, as
employees’ expectations for appropriate, fair, respectful and decent treatment at work are high.
The threshold for reporting any inappropriate behaviour may be lower compared to other
countries with a different work culture. This societal attitude is often reported as the main reason
that Nordic countries display high levels of violence and harassment. However, the conclusion
will show that awareness levels in the countries do not seem to fully explain the differences in the
prevalence of violence and harassment.
Finally, countries where the phenomenon is high on the agenda of policymakers and social
partners are mostly northern European countries (Belgium, Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands,
Norway, Sweden and the UK).
Reporting violence and harassment through surveys depends on whether or not the workers are
affected by violence or harassment at the workplace. However, different sources of information
have suggested that the level of reporting is also influenced by the above-mentioned level of
awareness in the country, whether or not the subject is considered to be taboo, or other
sociocultural characteristics, like the power imbalance between, for instance, a manager and a
The perception that violence and harassment is a taboo subject is widespread in some southern
and eastern European countries, such as Bulgaria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic and Portugal,
where they are reinforced by gender prejudices and stereotypes (which is also reported in Estonia
and Lithuania, but especially Cyprus). However, this is also true for countries where general
awareness is high and where policymakers keep the issue high on their agenda, such as in
Denmark and Finland.
Sociocultural attitudes and the level of violence and harassment
As explained above, the level of violence and harassment in a country can depend on the level of
awareness of what is considered to be violent behaviour in the workplace. Some authors also
explain differences in the level of prevalence among countries with different sociocultural
attitudes, for example the degree of tolerance about what is an offense to a person’s dignity.
Self-containment (Vveinhardt and Žukauskas, 2010) and the fear of intruding in victims’
private lives characterise the relationship with the work environment in Estonia and
In some Mediterranean countries like Croatia, Italy and Malta, there are daily conflicts in
companies and institutions and some conflictual behaviours are tolerated (Ege, 1997, 1999),
while in Greece and Lithuania they are considered to be natural aspects of relations at work.
Cultural societal factors such as familiar or local-level forms of control exerted by local
closed oligarchies, such as a patriarchal culture in Croatia (Russo et al, 2008), and the
prevalence of an individualist-masculine culture, as stated by Giorgi (2008) in the case of
Italy contribute to the social acceptance of behaviours that would be considered abusive in
other social contexts.
The relevance of sociocultural aspects is raised in Finland and the Netherlands. In Finland,
sociocultural differences in the meaning of words and terms and in the perception of
inappropriate behaviour may partly explain the difference in relation to countries that share a
similar work situation. Some of the sociocultural factors that explain workplace violence in the
Netherlands individualisation, self-expression and self-realisation are highly valued when
compared to many other EU countries.
Authors raised the issue of such a discrepancy by calling on cultural and societal reasons,
(although they sometimes do not take into account sample representativeness; see Giorgi, 2008),
by making extensive recourse to Hofstede’s (1991) indicators measuring national cultures,
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especially his idea of ‘power distance’ or, equivalently, a ‘high level of asymmetry of power’.
Power distance expresses the degree to which the less powerful members of a society accept and
expect that power be distributed unequally. People in societies that exhibit a large degree of
power distance accept a hierarchical order in which everybody has a place and which needs no
further justification, thus tolerating unfair behaviour. In societies with low power distance, people
strive to equalise the distribution of power, demand justification for inequalities of power and call
for more respect of personal dignity.
High power distance is alleged in order to explain large discrepancies among self-reported and
‘actual’ levels of bullying in Italy and Lithuania, while the Finnish contribution says that low
power distance and employees’ high expectations for appropriate, fair, respectful and decent
treatment keep the tolerance threshold low. For similar reasons, perpetrators in Denmark are
colleagues more often than superiors because of flat organisation and low power distance.
By using the indicators available by country on the Hofstede website and the EWCS 2010
synthetic indicator of ASB, Figure 10 outlines a negative relationship between violent behaviours
and power distance. All countries with self-labelled ASBs below the EU average also report
power distance above the EU average, while all countries with below-average power distance
report ASBs above the EU average. Only the Czech Republic and France report both indicators as
being above average, thus outlining a particularly tense situation.
The explanatory power of such a relationship is not negligible (about 30% of the variance), but it
still leaves room for other explanatory factors, referring to both work-related sociocultural
specificities and organisational factors (Figure 10). Further, the question of whether higher
reporting is due to lower tolerance towards ASBs or gaps in their effective occurrences remains
unanswered. This certainly requires a more systematic and extensive investigation among
Member States.
Violence and harassment in European workplaces: Extent, impacts and policies
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Figure 10: ASB and power distance
Note: The EU average for PDI is unweighted.
Source: Hofstede Centre website, EWCS
Extent of violence and harassment, awareness, policies and procedures
Taking into account some of the aspects considered in this report, countries can be classified
considering the prevalence of the phenomena, the policies and the procedures in place at company
level and the awareness in the country. There are other social and cultural elements at work and
the society might also play a role in the level of prevalence. However, the study of these is
beyond the scope of this comparative analytical report.
Group A
Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, UK
In this group, violence and harassment is considered an issue and policies are in place to prevent
and tackle it.
In these countries, there are long-standing and relatively systematic policies in place to prevent
and deal with violence and harassment. Policies have been adopted by governments and social
partners, sometimes including tripartite initiatives or bipartite social dialogue, and the policy
action is extended to the company level. The high relative level of awareness seems to contribute
to policy initiatives and companies’ implementation of procedures. Most of these countries have
higher proportions of workers reporting violence and harassment than the EU average (exceptions
are Ireland and the Netherlands), which seems to be influenced by both the level of awareness and
sociocultural characteristics (for example, power distance) and the development of polices by
governments and social partners. The effectiveness of these actions can be measured by the
recent, slow decline of incidents in the countries with consolidated intervention, such as Nordic
Violence and harassment in European workplaces: Extent, impacts and policies
56 © Eurofound
countries and the Netherlands. Some of these countries have a high share of workers in the
service sector, which might have an impact on the overall reporting levels.
Group B
Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Malta, Poland, Portugal, Romania,
Violence and harassment is not considered to be a major issue in this group. Awareness of it is
low or increasing.
These countries are characterised by low levels of reporting of violence and harassment by
workers. In general, the policies developed by social partners and governments are not developed
to the same level as in Group A. Within this group, some countries have initiatives developed by
governments and/or social partners at sectoral or national level (Italy, Poland, Spain), but most of
them have only developed non-systematic policies and in general they are at an early stage of
development and implementation. Moreover, less attention is paid to this issue in Greece and
Romania because other issues related to the economic crisis are prioritised instead. Awareness in
general is low, but it is increasing in some of the countries, which is reflected in the still-low
share of companies with procedures in place to tackle violence and harassment. This low level of
awareness can influence low reporting. Sociocultural characteristics of workplaces might not be
as conducive for the emergence of ASBs (for example, higher power distance, non-avoidance of
conflicts in southern Europe) as in other countries.
Group C
France, Germany, Luxembourg
In this group, violence and harassment is increasingly considered a relevant policy issue and
awareness of violence and harassment is steadily increasing.
Surveys show that there is a growing concern among the population about the importance of
violence and harassment at work and therefore awareness is increasing. It does not reach the
levels of Group A yet, but it is higher than in Group B. Moreover, psychosocial risks are of
increasing concern in these countries and have been included in the government’s and social
partners agenda. This is more the case in France than in Germany, because of social partners
initiatives and the alarming situation created by a number of suicides in the automotive and the
telecom sectors. Prevalence is higher than the EU28 average, especially in France. There are
policies in place, but they are not as systematic as in Group A. Social dialogue at cross-sectoral
level has been reported in France. The level of procedures in place in companies lags behind
Group A and is closer to Group B. Luxembourg has more similarities with France and Germany
than with the countries in Group A.
Group D
Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, Slovenia
In this group, awareness of violence and harassment is low. Policies and procedures are
developing or do not yet exist.
This group is made up of countries that transitioned from a planned economy to a capitalist one at
the beginning of the 1990s, which might have had implications for work organisation and
experiences of work intensity and worklife balance. Most of them have higher proportions of
workers reporting violence and harassment than the EU28 average and the overall level of
awareness is low. Some of these countries are at an early stage of developing policies to tackle
the issue (Latvia). However, others have already developed more systematic policies (Slovenia).
There is no strong role for social dialogue in most of these countries. The rather limited action by
Violence and harassment in European workplaces: Extent, impacts and policies
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governments and the lack of social dialogue on this topic in many of these countries are reflected
in the low percentage of companies implementing procedures to tackle violence and harassment.
In some of these countries, self-containment and the consideration of violence and harassment as
an area of private life might make it more difficult to address the issue in the workplace.
Group C outlier: Austria
Austria has a comparatively high share of workers reporting violence and harassment. There are
some work-related policies, but none are systematic (for example, the government and social
partners published a joint brochure in 2009 on guidelines developed by social partners to
implement the EU framework agreement). Violence and harassment are not explicitly included in
the legislation, but some agreements exist at the sectoral level. In this context, the proportion of
companies implementing procedures is comparatively low. Therefore, Austria is one of the
countries where there is a need to increase efforts to tackle violence and harassment. Awareness
of the issue is increasing, as it is in Germany. This aspect might only partly explain the high level
of prevalence of this problem. The power distance aspect might also partially influence the levels
of reporting in Austria.
Overall, even in countries with low levels of awareness, the general population and policymakers
have started to pay some attention to the issue, such as in Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic,
Hungary, Italy, Lithuania and Portugal.
Finally, it is worth noting that because of the crisis, some countries show a decline in attention
about the issue. This is the case in the Czech Republic and Romania, but especially in Greece,
where sexual harassment was very high on the agenda, reflecting high societal attention to the
Violence and harassment in European workplaces: Extent, impacts and policies
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Some conclusions can be drawn from this comparative analysis.
Sociocultural aspects influence both the appearance of violence and harassment and the level
of reporting on it.
Working conditions (organisation of work, high work intensity and stress levels, poor
management, poor worklife balance) can foster violent and harassing behaviour in the
The level of awareness plays a role in identifying an incident as violent or harassing. Thus, a
higher level of awareness might lead to higher levels of reporting.
The high level of under-reporting limits accurate information-gathering. Policies built on
incomplete knowledge of the characteristics and scope of violence and harassment are less
meaningful and effective.
A legislative definition of violence and harassment increases claimants’ chances of
successfully resolving their case. A legislative definition also promotes policy initiatives and
better coordination.
Policy coherence and the integration of different actors into strategic activities are not well
developed in most countries in Europe.
Comparative analysis is limited due to the variety of survey methodologies used when
collecting data.
A high level of awareness in a country often goes hand in hand with long-term, systematic
policies developed through social dialogue and implemented through company procedures
and national policies.
As highlighted by the 2014 Eurofound/EU-OSHA report Psychosocial risks in Europe:
Prevalence and strategies for prevention, violence and harassment are associated with negative
impacts on work and health.
Understanding the level of reporting violence and harassment is complex because of multiple
factors, such as the level of awareness, sociocultural aspects, and policies and procedures, which
impact on the aggregate number of reported cases. Legislative codification varies among
countries, reflecting both sociocultural differences and differences in labour law and social
protection as well as its inclusion in health and safety legislation at work.
There are few claims in courts (apart from Belgium and France) because of the poor chances of
success. There are also few claims made to equality bodies acting as conciliation bodies set up by
governments according to the Equal Treatment Directive (apart from Slovakia and Sweden)
because of their limited opportunities to intervene at the workplace level and due to the claimants’
exposure to retaliation risks. Thus, official under-reporting is a widespread issue in almost all
Member States, with a few notable exceptions for third-party violence in the Dutch and UK
public services, where employers show a stronger commitment to tackling abusive behaviour.
Reporting is a central issue because different meanings of these concepts reflect differences in
sociocultural contexts, both among countries and groups of workers. Furthermore, differences
among countries in survey methodology, question design, reference periods and the labelling and
grouping of behaviours as well as the limited availability of synthetic indicators limits extensive
comparative efforts. Currently, only cross-country surveys, such as Eurofound’s EWCS and the
EU-OSHA ESENER, ensure comparability among countries.
In order to overcome such difficulties, operational approaches, such as the NAR-Q and the LIPT
questionnaires, try to limit respondents’ reluctance to answer questions on violence and
harassment. They have been implemented mostly at company and sectoral level: when combined
Violence and harassment in European workplaces: Extent, impacts and policies
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with direct questions about personal experience of violence and harassment (integrated approach),
discrepancies emerge as under-reporting. When the integrated approach is implemented into
national surveys, such as in France, Ireland, Italy and Slovenia, the set of investigated abusive
behaviours is reduced, thus leaving the comparability issue unsolved.
Notwithstanding these methodological difficulties, the analysis of violence and harassment based
on national surveys provides important insights about their individual characteristics, the
influence of organisational risk factors and health outcomes. As a general picture, while findings
from both consolidated literature and secondary analysis based on the EWCS are confirmed by
showing a moderate long-term increase and higher figures among women and in service sectors,
their reporting by age classes and educational attainment display conflicting evidence, mainly due
to country-specific social characteristics of the labour market.
In general, a high share of workers in Scandinavian countries report experiencing violence and
harassment , followed by other countries in northern and central Europe. Overall, violence and
harassment is less reported in southern countries.
There is shared evidence that violence and harassment shows a long-lasting moderate increase
among Member States, which seems to be mainly related to greater reporting of third-party
violence. This seems to be mainly due to the increasing share of the workforce carrying out
service tasks in direct contact with third parties, work that is probably combined with the
increasing use of ICT. Furthermore, there is extensive evidence on the association between
violence and harassment and higher levels of job demands (time pressure, workload, tight
deadlines), poor worklife balance, inadequate work organisation (managerial performance,
conflicts), job insecurity and stress.
At the EU level, some workers in certain employment conditions report having being subjected to
violence and harassment more often, such as temporary workers, workers of foreign origin or
people working in the health sector. Overall, workers suffering from violence and harassment
report worse well-being outcomes, which in the long term can lead to a greater probability of
early retirement and makes work less sustainable over the life course.
There is wide consensus from national-level evidence on the negative impact of violence and
harassment on mental health, especially in terms of higher levels of stress, depression and
anxiety, thus validating figures from the fifth EWCS. There is limited direct evidence on the
impact on firms’ performance. Lower motivation acts as an indirect indicator. According to some
UK and Swedish studies, the breach in trust between the employer and employees is the main
consequence of violence and harassment.
Differences exist between countries on the type of legislation dealing with violence and
harassment. This aspect might influence the extent of the implementation of procedures and
measures at establishment level, especially if they are part of employment or OHS legislation.
However, it has more of an influence on how systematic, coherent and coordinated policies are at
national level. In general, countries with long-term, systematic policies engage more in cross-
sectoral social dialogue and workplace measures.
In the EU there is a low proportion of companies with procedures or measures to tackle violence
and harassment. The group of countries where more companies have policies are those where
violence and harassment are more clearly included in policy initiatives (collective agreements or
OHS and employment legislation). The Scandinavian countries and the Netherlands consider such
an obligation to be part of the general duty of the employer to prevent negative behaviour in the
workplace in order to safeguard employees’ mental and physical health. This approach seems to
be related to the use of the broader concept of well-being when referring to health issues at work.
Legislation in Belgium and France has introduced a specific duty on the employer to prevent
violence and harassment. In Ireland, employers are advised to introduce a code of conduct in
Violence and harassment in European workplaces: Extent, impacts and policies
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order to show their commitment to tackling abusive behaviour, which is highly relevant in case of
a court claim.
There is still limited evidence about the impact of these policies, as societal sensitivity tends to
increase over time. However, some signs of decline in the extent of the problem emerged after
2008. These seem to be more evident in the Scandinavian countries and the Netherlands, which
have set up consistent long-term prevention strategies that combine adequate legislative
frameworks based on specific employer duty of work environment prevention and an integrated
prevention approach with intense awareness campaigns and social partner and civil society
Finally, from a comparative perspective it must be acknowledged that the levels of prevalence
seem to be influenced by the existing awareness in the countries. However, it is not the only
explanation and various aspects that have already been mentioned related to employment and
working conditions, sociocultural characteristics and effectiveness of policy also play a role. For
example, some countries have high levels of prevalence and low general awareness. Interestingly,
across Europe not one country reports a high level of awareness of violence and harassment and
low prevalence. This scenario could be considered ideal because people would be aware of the
issue, increasing the likelihood of reported figures better reflecting reality. Therefore, a low level
of reporting when people are aware of the issue might indicate genuinely low levels of prevailing
violent and harassing behaviour.
In general in Europe, the issue is not very high on the policy agenda (except in the Scandinavian
countries and the Benelux countries), but more attention is being paid to the issue even in
countries where there is less awareness (in southern and eastern Europe).
Violence and harassment at work is a complex issue and identifying it is strongly influenced by
sociocultural aspects. These difficulties are thus greater when considering the issue from a
comparative perspective, as it is difficult to disentangle societal awareness, especially in terms of
tolerance towards certain behaviours, from their effective occurrence and their determinants.
Comparability has been limited to cross-country surveys such as Eurofound’s EWCS. By
supporting a better understanding of the issue and by setting some common standards of analysis,
such as shared reference periods, perpetrators and investigation of the intensity of violence and
harassment, the comparability between surveys could be increased. The introduction of shared
synthetic indicators would also support the comparability of national sources.
When turning to policies, the legal framework plays a central role in outlining the employer’s
duty of prevention and the active role that governments (for example, OHS agencies) play in
promoting both enforceability and better understanding by means of surveys and case studies and
by issuing guidelines and recommendations. Social partners’ contribution ranges from policy
design, as in the 2007 autonomous framework agreement, to policy implementation by, for
example, providing specific expertise in preventive actions at workplace level and by providing
support to those who are targeted. For these reasons, their involvement in prevention policies and
the deliberative process as a whole is essential. It is therefore unsurprising that workplace
preventative measures against violence and harassment, such as specific procedures and the
presence of confidential counsellors, tend to be more widespread as policy coordination increases
and prevention policies are oriented towards the long term.
Violence and harassment in European workplaces: Extent, impacts and policies
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Outlook: Cyberbullying as an emerging issue
Cyberbullying is an emerging issue because of the increasing pervasiveness of ICT and mobile
devices in the workplace. The 2010 multisectoral guidelines to tackle third-party violence and
harassment related to work agreed by the EU social partners from both private and public sectors
(EPSU, UNI Europa, ETUCE, HOSPEEM, CEMR, EFEE, EuroCommerce and CoESS) included
cyberbullying as one new form of violence and harassment at work.
While the public, policymakers and researchers pay a lot of attention to cyberbullying, there is
limited evidence about its extent and impact at work.
The Swedish contribution summarises a report on behalf of the WEA, the Swedish environment
authority, carried out by Göransson et al (2011). This report first defines cyberbullying or
cyber aggression as aggressive behaviour, such as threats or bullying, taking place over the
internet. ‘Cyber incivility is defined as less serious forms of aggression. The report provides
some evidence on third-party cyberbullying, while none of the very few studies published in
Sweden investigate internal cyberbullying. People who have experienced cyberbullying are less
satisfied at work, less involved in the organisation, are more likely to wish to leave the
organisation and are more involved in different forms of negative behaviour towards the
organisation. Cyberbullying is a frequent issue for journalists in Sweden. According to a 2009
survey carried out by the Swedish Union of Journalists (SJF), 22% of respondents report having
been victims of online threats.
According to a survey carried out by the German Teachers Union (GEW) in 2007, 8% of
unionised teachers had experienced cyberbullying via the internet or mobile phone, with a higher
prevalence in secondary schools.
There is little information on prevention measures against cyberbullying in workplace-related
situations. Most of the activities still focus on providing information and on raising awareness.
The Estonian Data Protection Inspectorate has published several guides regarding processing and
protecting personal data in work relations, the privacy of employees computer use and recording
phone calls. The social partners in Norway have in recent years emphasised that employers must
be aware of the use of digital platforms in their business and they should have an active policy on
the prevention of sexual harassment using such media. They should also have clear procedures for
dealing with cases of sexual harassment and threats via digital platforms.
Overall, the issue of cyberbullying seems to be restricted to third-party violence. However, issues
related to data protection and its link to violence and harassment are reported. As it is expected to
be a growing aspect of concern, policymakers should pay attention to it in the future.
The information collected confirms that in the context of the widespread use of ICT devices, there
is a need for further research and monitoring of cyberbullying in workplaces.
Violence and harassment in European workplaces: Extent, impacts and policies
62 © Eurofound
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Annex 1: Classifying national surveys
Table A.1: Mapping employee survey countries
AT1: Violence at workplace VIDA (services TU)-IFES
Repeated (last year): No
Focus: Violence
Methodology and reference period: Self-labelled, classification as violence of behaviours,
self-labelled notice of ASB, personally experienced, causes. No time span.
Items: Teasing, mocking; screaming, intimidation; exclusion; insinuating or discriminating
jokes or comments; verbal sexual harassment; physical sexual assault or harassment; verbal
abuse, insults; physical assault; coercion, blackmailing. Causes: increasing work pressure; bad
leadership; personal resentments; competition and rivalry; fear of job loss; alcohol and/or
drug use.
Frequency/recurrence: Frequency: daily, weekly, monthly, less
Perpetrators: Superiors, colleagues, clients
Definition proposed: No
AT2: Workplace bullying
Repeated (last year): Span of time
Focus: Companies over time
Methodology and reference period: Operational, past 6 months
Items: NAQ-R 16
Frequency/recurrence: Frequency
Perpetrators: Internal
Definition proposed: No
BE1: Flemish workability monitor
Repeated (last year): Yes, 2013
Focus: Regional
Methodology and reference period: Self-labelled: noticed (until 2010), personal (2013) past
12 months
Items: Physical violence, unwanted sexual behaviour, harassment
Frequency/recurrence: Frequency
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BG1: Women in public transport Sofia
Repeated (last year): No, 2010
Focus: Sectoral trade union
Methodology and reference period: Self-labelled personal, environment, no reference
Items: Risk of violence, personal exposure to bullying, victim of physical violence
Frequency/recurrence: No
Perpetrators: Colleague; passenger, client; manager
Definition proposed: No
BG2: Work climate survey
Repeated (last year): Yes, 2012
Focus: Index, TU
Methodology and reference period: Self-labelled, past 12 months
Items: Physical violence; psychological harassment or bullying; unwanted sexual advances,
sexual harassment; physical abuse, beating
Frequency/recurrence: No
Perpetrators: No
Definition proposed: No
CY1: Gender discrimination in work and employment
Repeated (last year): No, 2012
Focus: Gender harassment
Methodology and reference period: Self-labelled, no time specification
Items: Harassment (including sexual), personal and noticed
CY2: Sexual harassment in the workplace
Repeated (last year): No, 2007
Methodology and reference period: Self-labelled harassment, personal and noticed, no time
Items: Listed behaviours, personal, colleagues’ and relatives’ reaction, causes
Frequency/recurrence: No
Perpetrators: No
Definition proposed: No
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Czech Republic
CZ1: Omnibus GHK (then STAM-MARK)
Repeated (last year): Yes, 2013
Focus: General poll
Methodology and reference period: Self-labelled personal actions taken
Items: Mobbing and harassment, employment status
Frequency/recurrence: Recurrently
Perpetrators: Superiors and colleagues
Definition proposed: No
CZ2: Improvement of Social Dialogue
Repeated (last year): Yes, 2010
Focus: Health and social care
Methodology and reference period: Self-labelled experienced and observed, past 12 months
Items: Physical violence, verbal attacks, bullying, sexual harassment, race-related
humiliation, witnessed physical violence
Frequency/recurrence: Yes
Perpetrators: Patients/clients, other employees, relatives of patients/clients, superiors,
external employees, unknown persons
CZ3: Survey on workplace bullying
Repeated (last year): No, 20102011
Focus: University, bullying
Methodology and reference period: Integrated (self-labelling both personal and witnessed),
past 12 months
Items: NAR-Q (16), self-labelling: victim of mobbing, witness of bullying
Frequency/recurrence: Yes
Perpetrators: Superiors, colleagues, students, subordinate
Definition proposed: Bullying
CZ4: Don’t fear equal opportunities
Repeated (last year): 2011
Focus: Gender discrimination and sexual harassment
Methodology and reference period: Small companies
Items: Sexual harassment
CZ5: Monthly omnibus
Repeated (last year): Yes, 20082013
Methodology and reference period: Evaluation of the situation with violence and bullying
at the workplace
Items: Importance of violence and bullying awareness
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DK1: AH2012 (DWECS)
Repeated (last year): Yes, 2012
Focus: General longitudinal survey
Methodology and reference period: Self-labelled, personal and witnessed, past 12 months
Items: Personal: conflicts and quarrels, bullying, sexual harassment, threat of violence,
physical violence. Witnessed: bullying.
Frequency/recurrence: Frequency
Definition proposed: Bullying
Repeated (last year): Yes
Focus: Psychosocial factors at work
Methodology and reference period: Self-labelled, personal and witnessed, past 12 months
Items: Personal: gossip, conflicts and quarrels, bullying, sexual harassment, threat of
violence, physical violence. Witnessed: bullying.
Frequency/recurrence: Frequency
Perpetrators: Colleagues, superiors, external
Definition proposed: Bullying
EE1: Gender Equality Monitor
Repeated (last year): Yes, 2013. Changed 2009.
Focus: Gender-based, overall workforce
Methodology and reference period: Fear; self-labelled questions personal and observed
(2009); integrated (2013), past 12 months
Items: Sexual harassment: Disturbing remarks, obscene jokes, unwanted proposals,
unpleasant approaching, obscene (sexist) messages, e-mails, comments. Place it occurred,
awareness, responsible for solving.
Perpetrators: Coworker, superior, client
EE3: Bullying at work
Repeated (last year): No, 2010
Focus: Specific overall workforce
Methodology and reference period: Operational, past 6 months
Items: NAQ-R 22
Frequency/recurrence: How often in previous 6 months
Definition proposed: Bullying
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EE6: Prevalence of psychosocial risks
Repeated (last year): 2010
Focus: Psychosocial risk
Methodology and reference period: Self-labelled, past 12 months, stratified representative
Items: Unwanted sexual attention, threats of violence, verbal harassment, experience of
mental or physical violence or bullying
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FI1: Finnish National Work and Health
Repeated (last year): Yes, 2012
Focus: OHS
Methodology and reference period: Self-labelled personal, 12 months
Items: Psychological violence or harassment, sexual harassment, third-party inappropriate
behaviour, threats, physical violence
Frequency/recurrence: Harassment: moment in time. Sexual harassment and inappropriate
behaviour: frequency.
Perpetrators: No
Definition proposed: Psychological violence and harassment
FI2: Finnish Quality of Working Life Survey (QWLS)
Repeated (last year): Yes, 2008
Focus: Quality of work
Methodology and reference period: Self-labelled personal and observed, past 12 months
Items: Harassment and inappropriate treatment, bullying (presence, personal experience),
violence or threats, personally (now, previously)
Frequency/recurrence: Harassment, violence and threats: frequency. Bullying: recursiveness
at workplace, moment in time.
Perpetrators: No
Definition proposed: Bullying
FI3: Annual working life barometer (AWLB)
Repeated (last year): Yes, 2012
Focus: Quality of work
Methodology and reference period: Self-labelled personal and observed, past 12 months
Items: Harassment, third-party violence
Frequency/recurrence: Frequency
Perpetrators: Third-party violence
Definition proposed: Psychological violence and bullying
FR1: Conditions de Travail (CT)
Repeated (last year): Yes, 2013
Focus: Working conditions
Methodology and reference period: 2005: self-labelled personal, unspecified time. 2013:
integrated, past 12 months.
Items: 2005: Aggressions (physical/verbal or insults or threats). 2013: self-labelled
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verbal/physical or sexual aggression.
Frequency/recurrence: 2005: N=never, sometimes, often, always. 2013: systematic
behaviour (operational).
Perpetrators: 2005: no. 2013: (operational) internal, clients, other employees, others; (self-
labelled) internal, external.
Definition proposed: No
FR2: Santé et Itinéraire Professionnel (SIP)
Repeated (last year): Yes, 2010
Focus: Labour market paths, panel
Methodology and reference period: Self-labelled, past 12 months
Items: See CT 2013
Frequency/recurrence: Present or previous jobs (biography)
Perpetrators: Internal/external
Definition proposed: No
FR3: Sumer
Repeated (last year): Yes, 2010
Focus: OHS
Methodology and reference period: Employees: integrated, 12 months
Items: Self-labelled, see CT 2013
Frequency/recurrence: 2003: Number of times. 2010: currently, in the past (operational),
number of times (self-labelled).
Perpetrators: 2003: only third parties. 2010: see CT 2013.
Definition proposed: No
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Repeated (last year): No, 2011
Focus: Public administration
Methodology and reference period: Operational. LIPT 31 + Berlin SSS a, GPSES, PANAS.
Items: Mobbing, causes, health and behaviour outcomes
Frequency/recurrence: Frequency, duration
Perpetrators: Superiors, colleagues, inferiors, others; gender, number
Definition proposed: No
DE2: Violence in the healthcare and social sectors
Repeated (last year): No, 2008
Focus: Healthcare and welfare, no working conditions
Methodology and reference period: Operational, SOAS-R
Items: Analysis of each reported attack
Perpetrators: Superiors, colleagues, inferiors, others
Definition proposed: No
Repeated (last year): No, 2001
Focus: Employment services after Hartz IV
Methodology and reference period: Integrated COPSOQ + FOBIK, past 12 months
Items: Personal: gossip, conflicts and quarrels, bullying, sexual harassment, threat of
violence, physical violence. Witnessed: bullying.
Frequency/recurrence: Frequency
Perpetrators: Colleagues, superiors, external
Definition proposed: No
HU1: Psychosocial factors at work
Repeated (last year): No
Focus: Active and inactive
Methodology and reference period: Past 12 months self-labelled
Items: Undesired sexual attention, violent threat, physical violence, intimidation, bullying
Frequency/recurrence: Frequency
Perpetrators: Colleagues, superiors, external
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HU3: Equal treatment
Repeated (last year): Yes, 2012
Focus: Stereotypes
Methodology and reference period: Self-labelled experience
Items: Verbal harassment, public humiliation, violent threat, physical insult
Frequency/recurrence: Unclear
Perpetrators: Not specified
Definition proposed: No