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Half of British workforce ill-treated in past two years

02 November 2011

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

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

The study by Cardiff and Plymouth Universities also shows that conventional employment policies are failing to deal with workplace ill-treatment.

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

4.9 per cent had suffered violence in the workplace – the equivalent of more than 1 million workers - with 3.8 per cent injured as a result

Almost 30 per cent complained of impossible deadlines and unmanageable workloads

Nearly a quarter had been shouted at or experienced someone losing their temper

13.3 per cent had been intimidated by somebody in the workplace

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

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

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

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

Professor Duncan Lewis from Plymouth University added: ""Contrary to received wisdom, our report reveals that it is not always the weakest employees who are on the receiving end of ill-treatment. For example, permanent staff with managerial responsibilities are more likely to experience both unreasonable treatment and workplace violence and better-paid employees are more likely to experience unreasonable treatment.

"Ill-treatment is not confined to backstreet employers and being in a workplace which is part of a larger organisation with a human resource function, and even trade union recognition, provides no special defence against it. Workers in the public sector are particularly at risk of both incivility and disrespect and violence and injury. Within the public sector, employees in health and social care, public administration and defence, and education are especially at risk."

Notes to editors

The full report, Insight into ill-treatment in the workplace: patterns, causes and solutions can be found at .

The report will be launched at seminar hosted by the Economic and Social Research Council as part of the Festival of Social Science on Wednesday November 2, at Brugh House, New End Square, London at 5pm. Details of the launch event can be found at:

For more information, interviews or to attend the launch, please contact:

Stephen Rouse

Public Relations Office

Cardiff University

029 208 75596

Wanda Sampson
Press & Public Relations Officer
Plymouth University
01752 588004

Cardiff University

Cardiff University is recognised in independent government assessments as one of Britain’s leading teaching and research universities and is a member of the Russell Group of the UK’s most research intensive universities. Among its academic staff are two Nobel Laureates, including the winner of the 2007 Nobel Prize for Medicine, University President Professor Sir Martin Evans.

Founded by Royal Charter in 1883, today the University combines impressive modern facilities and a dynamic approach to teaching and research. The University’s breadth of expertise in research and research-led teaching encompasses: the humanities; the natural, physical, health, life and social sciences; engineering and technology; preparation for a wide range of professions; and a longstanding commitment to lifelong learning. Three major new Research Institutes, offering radical new approaches to neurosciences and mental health, cancer stem cells and sustainable places were announced by the University in 2010.

About Plymouth University

Consistently ranked one of the top modern universities in the UK, Plymouth has a strong record of excellence, enterprise and innovation across its teaching and research activities and is distinguished by its long-term engagement with employers. Celebrating its 150th anniversary in 2012, the university has developed outstanding links with the business community and plays a key role in civic and regional leadership.

With around 30,000 students, including those studying at its partner FE colleges throughout the South West, the university is one of largest in the UK. It enjoys a high rate of graduate employment and has recently invested more than £120 million in state-of-the-art facilities to enhance the student experience.

Plymouth has embedded sustainability across its operations, and in 2010 was named by People & Planet as the UK’s number one green university. It is a founding partner in the Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry and is the leading provider of Higher Education in Cornwall.

The Festival of Social Science

The Festival of Social Science is run by the Economic and Social Research Council which runs from 29 October to 5 November 2011. With events from some of the country's leading social scientists, the Festival celebrates the very best of British social science research and how it influences our social, economic and political lives - both now and in the future. This year’s Festival of Social Science has over 130 creative and exciting events aimed at encouraging businesses, charities, government agencies; and schools or college students to discuss, discover and debate topical social science issues. Press releases detailing some of the varied events are available at the Festival website. You can now follow updates from the Festival on twitter using #esrcfestival