By Marcus Leach

The shock findings of a UNISON survey shows that six in ten workers across the UK have been bullied, or witnessed bullying, over the past six months.

The union is warning that Government cuts are fuelling workplace bullying and silencing workers fearful of their jobs.

One in four workers say that staff cutbacks have led to workplace bullying - double the number from two years ago - and around half say they would be too scared to raise concerns during the period of cuts. The UK’s largest union is predicting that the amount of workplace bullying will rocket further, as the cuts really start to bite.

Findings from the survey of more than 6,000 staff reveal that one in three employees are being bullied at work across the UK, with many more witnessing it. London had the highest number of workers, who had been bullied, or witnessed bullying - at 83%.

The impact on the health of staff is revealed, as the bullied workers say it has led to mental stress, anxiety, anger and lowered motivation. However, more than half say they will stay in their jobs and suffer in silence - compared to only a quarter of staff in 2009.

“Workers are stuck in a living hell, as they are faced with a double whammy of cuts and bullying," Dave Prentis, UNISON’s General Secretary, said.

“Our results show that bosses are failing to clamp down on workplace bullying and staff are too scared to raise concerns in the current climate of staff and job cuts. There is more pressure than ever from management and the levels of stress are soaring.

“The survey shows that in the last six months the the Government’s cuts agenda is hitting people hard. We fear that bullying will only continue to rise, as the cuts bite further, leading to long-term mental and physical health problems. Staff will be unable to carry out their jobs and will be pushed into taking sickness absence, so it makes economic sense for employers to clamp down hard on the bullies.

“This survey goes a long way to dispel the myth the Government is currently peddling, that there is no need for health and safety legislation. We need legislation to put a stop to millions of workers suffering in silence.

“The Government must rethink its savage cuts agenda, or see workers’ health and efficiency deteriorate. It is more important than ever that workers join a union, as this may be their only point of call for help.”

Survey results:

The survey was carried out by the Centre for Organisation Research and Development (CORD) at Portsmouth Business School during May 2011.

Staff bullied in the last six months (as the cuts started to set in) - 35% of all respondents. 27% of all respondents have witnessed bullying during that period — a total of 62%.

Regional breakdown:

- London - 48% have been bullied in the last six months, another 35% had witnessed it.

- North West — 38% have been bullied in the last six months, another 33% witnessed it.

- West Midlands — 38% have been bullied in the last six months, another 33% have witnessed it.

- South East — 37% have been bullied in the last six months, another 25% witnessed it.

- Northern — 36% have been bullied in the last six months, another 29% witnessed it.

- Yorkshire and Humberside — 34% bullied in last six months, another 26% witnessed it.

- South West — 34% have been bullied in the last six months, another 24% have witnessed it.

- East Midlands — 33% have been bullied in last six months, another 24% witnessed it.

- Eastern -32% have been bullied in the last six months, another 26% witnessed it.

- Scotland — 31% have been bullied in the last six months, another 28% witnessed it.

- Wales — 29% have been bullied in last six months, another 27% witnessed it.

The highest sector groups for bullying:

36% of local government workers

32% of higher education workers

33% of further education workers

31% of police staff

35% of school staff

A quarter of the number of bullied workers say the bullying coincided with staff cutbacks (26.8%) - this has doubled in two years.

28% say it was because of a change in line manager, 18% say it was a change in senior line manager and 21% say it came as a result of a recent change in job. 23% say it was because new employees are coming into the section.

Eight out of ten workers reveal they will have to do more for the same money in the face of budget cuts.

More than a quarter (27%) say their manager has been tougher on them since the cuts set in.

More than a quarter (27%) have seen or experienced more bullying since the cuts set in.

Around half (49%) say they are less likely to voice disagreement in the period of cuts.

Around half (49%) believe their organisation has a clear understanding of what bullying is.

Only 39% are confident their organisation will take cases of bullying seriously.

74% of those bullied say the person responsible was at a higher professional level.

Most common behaviours — rude and disrespectful behaviour, being set unrealistic targets, isolation/exclusion, excessive work monitoring and criticism, withholding information and intimidation.

The top reactions of workers who had been bullied were anger, lowered motivation, feeling undermined, anxiety or mental stress, powerlessness and isolation.

61% of the bullied are concerned about taking action, as they are worried they will be labelled as a trouble maker. Workers were also worried that taking action would harm their reputation, and that colleagues would act negatively.

43% of the bullied workers have looked for another job with the employer.

58% of the bullied workers have considered leaving their jobs, 53% have considered staying in their job and doing nothing about the bullying and 23% have considered legal action. In 2009, 25% said they would stay in their job and do nothing.

Of the 27%, who have witnessed bullying at work in the last six months - 47% did something directly to help the bullying stop, 23% were worried about becoming a target themselves, 18% say fears for their job security hindered their helping, 30% say it lowered commitment to their manager and 40% say it lowered commitment to their organisation. 99% did not think the bullying was justified.

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