Ill-treatment is rife in UK workplace

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You might think that bullying gets left behind on the school playground, yet around one million Brits have experienced violence and aggression in the workplace in the past two years, according to new research.

The research paints an alarming picture of the UK workplace, with millions more employees subjected to intimidation, humiliation and rudeness. So just what is going on?

The joint study by Cardiff and Plymouth universities found that conventional employment policies fall short in dealing with abuse in the workplace.

The research, based on face-to-face interviews with nearly 4,000 employees representing a cross-section of the British workforce, found that almost one in 20 had suffered violence in the workplace – equivalent to more than one million workers when translated nationally – with 3.8% injured as a result.

Of those who reported suffering violence, 13% said assault was a daily experience. Most of the attackers came from outside the workplace, with 72% of assailants being customers, clients or members of the public.

Workers in health and social work, education, and public administration and defence were revealed to be most at risk, while those in the private sector were more likely to suffer assaults by colleagues.

Mental strife
The study also suggested that just under half of Britain's workforce had experienced unreasonable treatment in some form. About 30% complained of impossible deadlines and unmanageable workloads and nearly a quarter had been shouted at or had experienced someone losing their temper at work.

The report highlights the types of ill-treatment commonly suffered, including someone withholding information which affects your performance; pressure from someone else to do work below your level of competence, and having your opinions and views ignored. Other forms include someone continually checking up on your or your work when it is not necessary, pressure from someone else not to claim something which by right you are entitled to and being given an unmanageable workload or impossible deadlines.

While managers and supervisors were blamed for two-thirds of unreasonable behaviour incidents, staff in this category are also at risk of being victims themselves. The researchers found that permanent employees with managerial responsibilities were most likely to experience both unreasonable treatment and workplace violence.

Failing staff
The full results are to be unveiled as part of the Festival of Social Science, organised by the Economic and Social Research Council, who also funded the research.

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

Many managers saw staff welfare as low on their list of priorities while, damningly, some even felt ill-treatment of staff was expected of them.

"We suggest that managers need to have standards of good treatment and civility built in as an essential part of their roles," Fevre said. "At the same time, employers need to recognise the pressures many managers are clearly under themselves, and give them the time and space to embed fairness in the workplace."
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