Personality and Social Psychology
Risk factors of workplace bullying for men and women: The role
of the psychosocial and physical work environment
Swedish School of Social Science, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland and Hanken School of Economics, Helsinki, Finland
Salin, D. (2015). Risk factors of workplace bullying for men and women: The role of the psychosocial and physical work environment. Scandinavian
Journal of Psychology, 56,69–77.
Workplace bullying has been shown to be a severe social stressor at work, resulting in high costs both for the individuals and organizations concerned.
The aim of this study is to analyze risk factors in a large, nationally representative sample of Finnish employees (n = 4,392). The study makes three
important contributions to the existing literature on workplace bullying: ﬁrst, it demonstrates the role of the physical work environment alongside the
psychosocial work environment – employees with a poor physical work environment are more likely than others to report having been subjected to or
having observed bullying. Second, contrary to common assumptions, the results suggest that performance-based pay is associated with a lower, rather
than higher risk of bullying. Third, the ﬁndings suggest that there are gender differences in risk factors, thereby constituting a call for more studies on
the role of gender when identifying risk factors. Increased knowledge of risk factors is important as it enables us to take more effective measures to
decrease the risk of workplace bullying.
Key words: Bullying, compensation system, gender, physical work environment, psychosocial work environment, risk factors.
Denise Salin, Swedish School of Social Science, University of Helsinki, P.O.Box 16, FIN-00014 Helsinki, Finland. Tel: +358-50-4480839;
According to the work environment hypothesis (e.g., Baillien,
Neyens & De Witte, 2008; Reknes, Einarsen, Knardahl & Lau,
2014; Salin & Hoel, 2011) job-related and organizational factors
play an important role in increasing or decreasing the risk of work-
place bullying. Previous empirical research has supported this
hypothesis, primarily presenting evidence for the role of the psy-
chosocial work environment. Numerous studies show that the risk
of bullying is clearly associated with, for instance, poor leadership
(Hauge, Skogstad & Einarsen, 2007; Hoel, Glasø, Hetland, Cooper
& Einarsen, 2010; Nielsen, 2013), role ambiguity and role conﬂict
(Baillien & De Witte, 2009; Hauge et al., 2007; Reknes et al.,
2014), stress (Baillien & De Witte, 2009; Hauge et al., 2007; Hoel
& Cooper, 2000), and a strained climate with poor information
ﬂow (Vartia, 1996). Studies have also examined how individual
factors, both personality and demographic factors, may affect the
likelihood of becoming a target of bullying (Notelaers, Vermunt,
Baillien, Einarsen & De Witte, 2011; Zapf & Einarsen, 2011). The
aim of this paper is to advance our understanding of risk factors by
in more detail examining aspects of the work environment that
have so far received rather limited attention. These include the
physical work environment, the compensation system, and per-
ceived gender-incongruence, and these are studied alongside risk
factors in the psychosocial work environment.
A comprehensive deﬁnition of workplace bullying has been
provided by Einarsen, Hoel, Zapf and Cooper (2011, p. 22),
who concluded that
Bullying at work means harassing, offending, or socially
excluding someone or negatively affecting someone’s work.
In order for the label bullying (or mobbing) to be applied
to a particular activity, interaction or process the bullying
behavior has to occur repeatedly and regularly (e.g., weekly)
and over a period of time (e.g., about six months). Bullying
is an escalating process in the course of which the person
confronted ends up in an inferior position and becomes the
target of systematic negative social acts. A conﬂict cannot be
called bullying if the incident is an isolated event or if two
parties of approximately equal strength are in conﬂict.
Bullying can take many different forms and may include work-
related negative acts, personal harassment, and social exclusion
(Notelaers, 2010). Work-related bullying includes, but is not lim-
ited to, unjustiﬁed criticism, sabotaging and/or withholding of
relevant information. Personal harassment includes gossip and
rumors. Offensive and insulting comments about one’sperson,
attitudes, or political or religious convictions are other examples.
Bullying is characterized by repeated and prolonged exposure
to predominantly psychological mistreatment (Einarsen et al.,
2011). While the individual acts may seem trivial on their own,
the accumulated effect of repeated negative acts may still be
considerable. Workplace bullying is associated with numerous
negative consequences. For the individual these involve effects
on physical and psychological health, self-esteem, job satisfac-
tion, and commitment (for meta-analyses see Hershcovis, 2011;
Nielsen & Einarsen, 2012; for a review see Salin, 2013).
Research has shown that bullying is a severe social stressor even
after controlling for other well-documented job stressors, such as
job demands, decision authority, role ambiguity, and role conﬂict
(Hauge, Skogstad & Einarsen, 2010). On the organizational level
bullying has been reported to result in increased turnover of
personnel, absenteeism, lost productivity, and negative publicity
(for a summary see Hoel, Sheehan, Cooper & Einarsen, 2011),
although empirical evidence for this is weaker than for the
individual consequences (Nielsen & Einarsen, 2012).
© 2014 Scandinavian Psychological Associations and John Wiley & Sons Ltd
Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, 2015, 56, 69–77 DOI: 10.1111/sjop.12169