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Workplace Violence: An Examination of Risks Faced by Women and Frontline Workers



Workplace Violence

Workplace violence is an issue that has been gaining increasing attention in recent years. It refers to instances of bullying, harassment, violence, verbal abuse or threats, and unwanted sexual attention, collectively termed as ‘adverse social behaviour’. Such behaviour can have significant mental and physical health implications for those who experience it. This article, drawing from the European Working Conditions Telephone Survey 2021 (EWCTS) and other sources, explores the prevalence and impact of workplace violence, with a particular focus on the heightened risks faced by women and frontline workers.

The Prevalence of Adverse Social Behaviour in the Workplace

The EWCTS found that, on average, 12.5% of workers in the EU experienced some form of adverse social behaviour at work in 2021. However, the share of women experiencing adverse social behaviour at work was consistently higher than that of men. This gender gap is particularly striking when it comes to unwanted sexual attention, with women being 3.6 times more likely to suffer from unwanted sexual attention than men.

Frontline workers, such as healthcare workers and protective services workers, are also particularly exposed to adverse social behaviour. Healthcare workers reported up to three times higher levels of unwanted sexual attention than the EU average, and both healthcare and protective services workers reported 2–3 times higher levels of bullying, harassment, and violence than the EU average.

The Health Implications of Workplace Violence

There is a clear link between adverse social behaviour and negative mental health and physical health outcomes, a phenomenon known as psychosocial risk. People who experience adverse social behaviour in the workplace are around three times more likely to experience physical and emotional burnout and emotional exhaustion, and almost twice as likely to suffer from anxiety or be at risk of depression.

The Need for Prevention and Protection

Adverse social behaviour at work poses a significant risk to workers’ health and well-being. It can have a long-term impact on individuals, with some studies showing that the effects can linger for years after the initial incident(s). Given the significant psychosocial and employment-related risks, public policy must address the need for improved job quality, prevention, and protection, including supporting victims.

Despite a range of policy initiatives at EU, national, sectoral, and company levels to address the issues, one-third of workers who are exposed to adverse social behaviour still say that they do not get the necessary support from their management (reported by 34% of men and 29% of women). This highlights the need for more effective measures to prevent workplace violence and support those affected by it.

Conclusion: Towards Safer Workplaces

Workplace violence is a significant issue that affects a substantial proportion of workers, particularly women and frontline workers. It not only has immediate impacts on the victims but can also have long-term effects on their mental and physical health, job satisfaction, and career progression. As such, it is crucial to address this issue through comprehensive and effective policies and practices that prevent adverse social behaviour, support victims, and promote a safe and respectful work environment. By doing so, we can create workplaces where everyone feels valued, respected, and safe.

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