Bullying at work: a test of the work environment hypothesis


  • M. van der Doef
  • B. Verkuil


Background: Workplace bullying has been shown to have severe negative consequences for individual employees and for organisations. The current study examines whether - in line with the work environment hypothesis – stressful working environments are associated with the prevalence of bullying. Methods: Secondary analyses were conducted on self-report data on psychosocial work characteristics and organisational factors, derived from 30,428 employees working in organisations providing care for mentally and/or physically disabled individuals. Aggregated scores at the unit level were used to determine on which work aspects units where bullying was present (n=99) differed from ‘non-bullying’ units (n=784). Findings: Univariate analyses showed significant differences between bullying and non-bullying units on nearly all psychosocial work characteristics and organisational factors. In contrast to expectations, high job demands were not associated with bullying status. Multivariate logistic regression analysis identified inadequate planning and work procedures, inadequate material and equipment, and high physical demands / working under unsafe conditions as main predictors (Nagelkerke R²=.276, p<.001). Discussion: The findings from this cross-sectional study provide some evidence for the work environment hypothesis, suggesting that improving the working environment might contribute to the reduction of bullying in organisations.