Nature and extent of mobbing in the workplace

mobbing lektura

Nature and extent of mobbing in the workplace

Jacek Sroka

European Working Conditions Observatory

Research carried out at the University of Gdańsk in 2006 and 2007 has yielded a set of social characteristics of persons who engage in mobbing or bullying in the workplace, along with a list of the pathological activities which most often constitute mobbing. Overall, three relatively common types of mobbing activity were identified. The study covered 643 employees chosen at random from a number of enterprises throughout Poland.

Mobbing in context of labour code

Article 943, paragraph 2, of the Polish Labour Code defines ‘mobbing’ as actions or behaviour referring to an employee, or directed against an employee, comprising persistent and drawn-out harassment or intimidation of that employee. Such actions or behaviour have the effect that the employee’s own assessment of their vocational value is compromised, causing – or aimed at – humiliation or ridicule of the employee and/or their isolation or elimination from the workplace team.

Article 943, paragraph 1, of the Labour Code obliges the employer to counteract mobbing. Such behaviour is a new concept in Polish law, codified only in 2004. No clear criteria have been established by organisational practice as to what exactly might constitute mobbing or bullying. Such criteria would be valuable within the framework of enforcing workplace discipline, ensuring that employees follow instructions and cultivating appropriate behaviour and attitudes in the workplace. Thus, the need arises to systematically monitor the characteristics and activities associated with mobbing. At present, no such monitoring is maintained, and information about the incidence of mobbing is of a fragmentary nature. For example, the National Labour Inspectorate (Państwowa Inspekcja Pracy, PIP) has carried out research focused on mobbing on only one occasion – in 2004 – immediately after the introduction of the concept to Polish law.

In light of this lack of research, a recent study carried out at the University of Gdańsk offers a useful insight into the problem.

About the study

The study posed questions concerning: 1) the demographic profile of mobbing victims and the sectors of the economy in which mobbing is most frequent; 2) the most frequent types of mobbing activity; and 3) the traits of the typical perpetrator of mobbing.

Carried out between October 2006 and February 2007, the survey covered 643 employees from all over Poland working in one of the following sectors:

  • public sector at national or local level;
  • health;
  • education, including higher education;
  • defence activities;
  • public security, law and order activities;
  • business activities.

The questionnaire was filled out by volunteers employed in randomly selected enterprises. Participating employees were asked to complete an anonymous questionnaire setting out the classicsuggestions of mobbing activity put forward by Heinz Leyman.

Most frequent types of mobbing activity

Although the results of the research are not based on a representative number of participants, three rather common types of mobbing activity could be identified (Table 1). The first type consisted of actions compromising the reputation of the victim, aiming to reduce her or his worth as perceived by co-workers and leading to a loss of respect for the victim. The second type comprised actions interfering with communication flows, with the result that victims become isolated in their work. The third type consisted of efforts undermining the victim’s social relations in the workplace, causing other employees to shun her or him. Compromising the victim’s vocational standing was found to be somewhat less common.

Table 1: Most frequent types of mobbing activity
Form of mobbing activity % of replies by mobbing victims (159 persons)
Compromising victim’s reputation .
– Parodies 22.6
– Violation of dignity 25.8
– Ridicule 44.6
– Slander 56.0
– Criticism of victim’s decisions 66.7
– Unfair assessment of efforts 67.3
Interference with communications .
– Criticism of victim’s work 17.6
– Interruptions when victim is speaking 20.13
– Insulting gestures 35.2
– Raised voice 47.8
Disruption of social relations .
– Isolation from other employees 33.3
– Shunning by superior 55.3
Compromising victim’s vocational standing .
– Assignments for which victim is over-qualified 16.3
– Humiliating assignments 23.9
– Enforced idleness 28.9
Detriment to health: .
– Psychological damage 11.3

Source: Miedzik, M., ‘Mobbing – charakterystyka zjawiska w Polsce’, Polityka społeczna, Vol. 35, No. 3, 2008

Traits of perpetrators

According to the 159 mobbing victims in the sample, mobbing was most often committed by their superiors (80.5%), including immediate superiors (53.5%) and overall superiors (27%) (Table 2). Male mobbing victims tend to identify the perpetrator as another man (71%), while female victims are more likely to identify another woman as being responsible (58.6%). In terms of age profile, the highest proportion of mobbing perpetrators was found in the 41–50 years age group.

Table 2: Traits of mobbing perpetrators
Trait % of replies by mobbing victims (159 persons) % of male victims (55 persons) % of female victims (104 persons)
Position – Direct superior 53.5 60.0 50.0
– Overall superior 27.0 27.3 26.9
– Co-workers 13.2 9.1 15.4
– Subordinates 0.6 0 1.0
– No data 5.7 3.6 6.7
Sex Female 47.2 25.4 58.6
Male 47.8 71.0 35.6
No data 5.0 3.6 5.8
Age 20–30 years 10.1 9.1 10.6
31–40 years 27.7 32.7 25.0
41–50 years 43.4 43.6 43.2
51–60 years 13.8 11.0 15.4
No data 5.0 3.6 5.8

Source: Miedzik, 2008


The data indicate that mobbing is a relatively serious issue in Poland, even if the scale of the problem is not significantly different from that found in other Member States of the European Union. It is a cause of concern that no regular studies are being pursued in this area. This may indicate that public institutions in Poland have a tendency to dismiss the problem of mobbing as a marginal concern. Thus, a systematic, regular monitoring of the situation in Poland is urgently needed; unfortunately, there is little to indicate that this will occur anytime in the near future.

Jacek Sroka, Institute of Public Affairs (ISP)16 October, 2008

European Working Conditions Observatory