Workplace bullying appears to occur in most countries. In the USA and Canada, it is called workplace harassment. In Norway, Sweden and Germany, it is called mobbing. In Finland, it is called interpersonal conflict. Much of the early research was conducted in Nordic countries, where there is strong public awareness, government funding and anti-bullying legislation. In the UK, reports from trades unions in the 1990s first drew attention to the issue. These described the mental distress, physical illness and career damage suffered by victims.
A study of staff working in an NHS community trust showed that bullied staff were more likely than non-bullied staff to suffer clinical levels of depression (8 per cent versus 1 per cent) and clinical levels of anxiety (30 per cent versus 9 per cent). They also took more days off work for sickness (14.4 days versus 6.2). Forty-four per cent of bullied smokers reported an increase in their smoking in the previous year, and 20 per cent of drinkers reported an increase in their alcohol consumption.
Some people may be at risk of bullying through social, demographic or personal factors that increase their chances of experiencing bullying. Social psychologists have shown that being different in some way may cause individuals to be seen as not "one of us", which may lead to aggression against the perceived outsider. Male kindergarten teachers were more likely to be bullied. Our studies have found people from minority ethnic groups are more likely to experience it, and in female dominated NHS trusts men seem more likely to experience it.
Many researchers believe bullying is the product of a particular organisational culture where there are poorly organised working practices and helpless or disinterested management.