Irish Workplace Behaviour Survey

Principal Investigators:           Dr. Margaret Hodgins, NUI Galway and Dr. Patricia Mannix-McNamara, and Dr. Sarah McCurtain University of Limerick, and Professor Duncan Lewis, University of Plymouth   

Funder:                                     Institution of Occupational Safety and Health, UK 

‌"Irish employers urged to combat worker ill-treatment" Report launched 24.1.18. Further details available from the IOSH website.

Full report available for - download Summary report available for - download

Workplace bullying has been extensively researched over the last 20 years, highlighting its negative impact on health. It is a pervasive problem, directly affecting a significant proportion of working population in terms of physical and mental health and potentially having a negative impact on organisational productivity, efficiency and the economy.

A national survey on workplace bullying was conducted in Ireland in 2007. This survey employed a self-labelling method, which has since been identified as yielding the lowest prevalence estimates. Self-labelling requires the respondent to self-identify as a victim, which, may be defended against, confounding the estimation of prevalence with personality factors.

There is a need therefore to re-visit the question of bullying prevalence in an Irish population and given the robust approach adopted by the UK it is proposed here to replicate the UK survey in an Irish population, using behavioural checklist methodology, increasingly advocated, for a more accurate estimate of ill-treatment in the workplace.


Aims and Objectives

Study Aim:

This study aims to establish the prevalence of negative acts in the workplace in a nationally representative sample of Irish employees, replicating the British Workplace Behaviour Survey (BWBS) conducted in 2008.

Specific Objectives:

1.    to measure the prevalence of the direct experience of negative acts in a representative sample of Irish employees

2.    to compare prevalence across various sub groups within the working population; men and women, younger and older workers, and between all workers and groups found in the BWBS to be vulnerable to ill-treatment, (for example LGB workers, people with disabilities and long-term health conditions)

3.    to compare prevalence across occupational groups and sectors, using the ISCO 08 classification and the NACE Rev. 2 categorisation respectively, as employed in the European Working Conditions Survey, 2010

4.    to explore the relationship between experience of ill-treatment and risk factors for workplace stress, as identified by the HSE Management Standards project (demand, control, relationships, support, role, change)

5.    to measure the prevalence of the witnessing of negative acts in a representative sample of Irish employees, and the prevalence of the self-reported perpetration of negative acts in a representative sample of Irish employees

6.    to explore the experiences of people within key sectors where ill-treatment is particularly prevalent with a substantial impact on health, as identified within the survey, in order to generate ideas for meaningful and workable solutions.



Design: The study will employ a mixed methods design to include both qualitative and quantitative components; a survey and a series of case studies;

  1. survey (objectives 1-5)
  2. case studies (objective 6).

Survey sampling: The target population will be adults (aged 15 and over) in Ireland who are either working as employees at the time of interview, or who have been in employment in the previous two years.

Obtaining a nationally representative sample

Multi-stage sampling will be employed. The Irish labour force will provide the sampling frame. Estimates indicate a population of employed persons of 1,549,100. Sample size estimates, using a confidence level of 99% and a confidence interval of 4, yields a sample size of 1,039. This will be elevated to 1,500 to allow for non-response. The survey will aim to achieve interviews with current or recent employees, which should include approximately 200 non-Irish (14% of those at work) and at least 74 persons with a disability (5% of labour force).

Respondents will be identified by screening participants in Ireland’s face-to-face Omnibus survey. The survey will be carried out using a quota sample, with sample points selected using random location methodology, employing the Omnibus’s own sampling system, based on census statistics and the Geo Directory of residential postal addresses. The sample points will be checked to ensure they are representative of urban rural classification.

Conducting interviews

All participants will be given an information leaflet, explaining study with further contact points for issues that may arise in the course of the interview.  The survey instrument will be that employed by the BWBS, based on the Negative Acts Questionnaire devised by Einarsen & Rakes, amended following cognitive testing. The instrument will not be altered, in order to ensure comparability between studies. The questionnaire will include:

  1. screening questions (working status, ethnicity, religion)
  2. questions employed in BWBS; 21 items, each describing a negative behavior or act, to which the individual must respond how often, if at all (using 6 point scale), respondent has been subjected to it, over the last two years.  Respondents will also be asked to respond to the same 21 items in relation to (1) observation of negative behaviour towards other people in the workplace, and (2) perpetration of negative behavior
  3. management Standards Questionnaire (Perceptions about current workplace in respect of whether the needs of the organisation always come before the needs of people, compromising of principles, ways in which people are treated, pace and control over, changes in work conditions and context).

 Analysis will include description of main variables, bivariate and multivariate analyses to explore relationships between contextual factors and workplace ill treatment. The inferential statistics will replicate those within the analysis plan from the BWBS.

Selection of case study sites

Three sites will be purposefully selected. The case studies will involve semi-structured interviews with key personnel (HR, Managers, Trade Unions) and employees, aiming for 20 interviews in each case study. Interview topics will include narratives about negative behaviours, perceived reasons for it, appropriateness and effectiveness of organisational policies and practices. The organisations will be large organisations (i.e. over 500 employees).

Identification of practitioner groups

Four practitioner workshops will be run, three within the RoI and one in NI, using IOSH (Ireland) to identify key practitioner personnel who can assist with compiling lists of practitioners (for example Occupational Health and Safety Officers, Occupational Health Nurses, HR specialists) for each of the four workshops. These will utilise HSE (Health Service Authority) premises, linking in with regional Workplace Health Promotion personnel.


Further Information:

For further information contact Dr Margaret Hodgins, Health Promotion, Áras Moyola, NUI Galway, University Road, Galway, IRELAND. Tel: 00 353 (91) 493349, Email: