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November 7, 2011

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Scale of workplace violence exposed

Half of British workers have been ill-treated at work in the past two years, new research has found.

While a million were subjected to physical violence, millions more endured intimidation, humiliation and rudeness, according to research from Cardiff University and Plymouth Business School.

The survey found that it is not only lower-paid and more junior staff who are at risk – managers, supervisors and professionals in well-paid, full-time jobs are also included in the badly-treated groups.

Key findings of the research include:

  • 4.9 per cent had suffered violence in the workplace – the equivalent of more than one million workers – with 3.8 per cent injured as a result;
  • almost 30 per cent complained of impossible deadlines and unmanageable workloads;
  • nearly a quarter had been shouted at, or experienced someone losing their temper; and
  • 13.3 per cent had been intimidated by someone in the workplace.

The research found that 13 per cent of those who reported violence were regularly exposed to it in the course of their daily routines. Most assailants were from outside the workplace, with 72 per cent customers, clients, or members of the public.

Employees in health, social work, education, public administration and defence faced the highest risk.

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

Professor Ralph Fevre of Cardiff University, one of the authors of the report, said: “Sadly, our study shows that violence, ill-treatment and unreasonable behaviour are all too common in Britain’s workplaces. Standard employment policies, like workplace behaviour statements and ‘one size fits all’ dispute procedures, are plainly failing.”

The professor continued: “Many managers saw staff welfare as low on their list of priorities, while some even felt ill-treatment of staff was expected of them.”

Professor Duncan Lewis from Plymouth University added: “Ill-treatment is not confined to backstreet employers. Being in a workplace that is part of a larger organisation with a human-resource function, and even trade union recognition, provides no special defence against it.”

The study was based on face-to-face interviews with almost 4000 workers. The full report, Insight into ill-treatment in the workplace: patterns, causes and solutions, can be found at

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