When is it bullying in the workplace?

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You may primarily associate bullying with children and classroom environments.

But bullying occurs in particular (and unfortunately) also in adult workplaces.

Bullying is an abusive act that takes place repeatedly over a long period of time.


The Danish Working Environment Authority defines bullying as:


“It is bullying when one or more people regularly and over a long period of time – or repeatedly in a gross way – exposes one or more other people to abusive actions that the person concerned perceives as hurtful or degrading.”


Then we have the definition in place.

And so we have come to the conclusion that bullying is not just a simple argument or a form of disagreement between two parties.

And yet there are several gray areas. Because it will always be the subjective perception of the situation and the relationship that determines whether it is bullying.

And it is difficult.

Because people are different and we have very different limits.

What is purely sarcastic humor to the receptionist can be decidedly offensive behavior to the cleaning manager.

The Danish Working Environment Authority therefore attaches great importance to the quantity – i.e. how large a volume these actions constitute – how often they actually occur.

Isolated situations will rarely be categorized as bullying – depending on the severity of course.

Examples of workplace bullying could be:


– Spreading rumours
– That you consistently talk down to an employee
– That you deliberately give an employee a very large amount of work compared to the other employees
– That an employee is excluded from social events
– When an employee consistently undermines their manager’s authority
– Posting humiliating, offensive and threatening comments or images on social media


So yes, bullying can come in many guises and none of them are particularly fun for the recipient or for well-being in general.


The good news!

Fortunately, bullying can be prevented and reduced if all levels in your workplace take action.

Therefore, in our ‘Recommendations for action’, you get concrete tools to work preventively with bullying at the workplace’s 4 levels – Individual, Group, Management and Organizational level (IGLO).

In ‘Recommendations for action’ we go in depth with concrete recommendations for measures at each level.

One of the most important factors in relation to bullying is the conflict management itself.




Mapping bullying

In the first instance, you must have mapped out whether there is bullying at all – and if so, to what extent are we talking about it?

The best way to find out is via The Health and Safety Assessment, where there are specific questions regarding bullying in the workplace.

In our surveys at Woba, we often run the following question:


Have you experienced bullying at your current job within the last 12 months?


And if you answer yes to that question, you will be directed to this one:


Please write who you have been bullied by?


And that is precisely the procedure to map whether a bullying problem exists in the first place and in particular – WHO is the perpetrator.

Precisely anonymity is important here, as many will have serious concerns about answering this if they are not protected by anonymity.

It is a very vulnerable subject – and a very unsafe problem, which makes it even more important that you run the Health and Safety Assessment to identify any problems of a serious nature. And you can safely say that ‘bullying’ is.

But then, always make sure you have a question frame that includes direct contact with bullying.


What do our surveys show?

At Woba, we have so far run 420,980 surveys for our business customers.

Through this, we have come across countless cases of bullying. And it ranges widely. From small (innocent) remarks made in the middle of lunch to decidedly continuous condescending treatment of employees.


In fact, 54% of our surveys that show ‘offensive acts’ are related to bullying.


In the following, you will see a small selection of problems related to bullying:


– ‘You are not taken seriously by your colleagues when you are under stress’

– ‘A few colleagues who repeatedly become mocking or condescending if you express that you are busy or have too much on your ears.’

– ‘When everyday life becomes stressful, I quickly find that people let their frustrations spill over to other work groups in the company and that the tone becomes unpleasant.’

– ‘If deliberately skewed division of labor can be described as bullying? So big yes’

– ‘Extremely negative attitude from nearest manager, including harassing language, negligence, being ignored, quite simply the most terrible manager I’ve had in my entire career.’

– ‘Mean management! After 14 years I have lost my 4 day week. Must stay every Friday until 12. At the weekend, there is no possibility of restitution. Only have 1.5 days off at the weekend. Management has ruined my family life. All talk with management is a waste of time. The management has the power, but not the slightest competence. The management does not take responsibility for the employees. The employees are not treated fairly. Friend favors and ass-licking are the management’s specialty. Work assignments are distributed according to sympathy and not according to qualifications.’

– ‘There are some bullies, but I don’t let them get to me anymore. I mean we mostly help each other, but there is always that “one guy” that wants everyone to help him, and at some point starts demanding help disregarding your tasks.’


The quotes show the diversity clearly.

Bullying can be many different things and exist on many different levels.

That is why it is also important that you ask about the bullying itself in your survey.


Follow up with the question:


‘Describe the situation where you have felt bullied’.


In this way, you get to know immediately what the bullying really is about – and thus get a valid basis for future action plans and measures.

It is undeniably easier to take action against bullying when you know the specific scope and the specific situation.

It gives itself.




Manage the conflict

Bullying most often stems from some form of conflict.

And conflicts are almost inevitable in a workplace. It is therefore particularly important that conflicts are handled in a fair manner to avoid a possible escalation.

Conflicts that are handled fairly can lead to a better working environment with well-being, but conversely if the conflict is not handled fairly, it can lead to an unhealthy working environment with poor working relationships and increased sickness absence.

When you have to work effectively with the handling and prevention of conflicts, you need a targeted effort and a prioritization from all levels in your workplace.

Here you get concrete tools to work preventively with conflicts at the workplace’s 4 levels – also called the IGLO model:



At organizational level

Understand the problem before you solve it
If the top organizational level (top management, HR, EHS, Working Environment Organization etc.) is to find out how you can best handle conflicts more fairly, it is important that you, in the first instance, know whether it is a real problem for you.

A good tool to gain this insight is to use the results from theHealth and Safety Assessment or the Engagement Survey to assess and map whether it is a specific problem in the company.

Conclusion: It IS a real problem within our organization.

Well, from here it is necessary that the top management and the Working Environment Organization follow up and make a specific action plan which will be anchored locally to improve the situation.

Most importantly: Take the problem seriously. Because it IS serious when an employee feels directly bullied on the job!


At management level

Create dialogue about conflicts.
There are several things you, as a manager, can do when it comes to handling and preventing conflicts among your employees in a fair way.
Here is a list that you can be inspired by:


Make it clear that you want to be involved early on when conflicts arise
– Talk about values and common ‘rules of life’
– Make room for diversity in the employee group
– Lead by example – and always try to handle conflicts constructively and fairly
– Take the initiative for a dialogue with the employee group about how conflicts are handled fairly
– Seek out the necessary knowledge about conflict prevention and handling, so that everyone feels that they are treated fairly without discrimination when a conflict arises


At Group level

Take care of the conflicts
As a group of colleagues, you have a great responsibility when it comes to handling conflicts fairly and, not least, preventing any escalation.
There are several things you should be aware of:


– Act constructively on conflicts when they arise
– Avoid guilt, shame and punishment
– Help each other find useful ways to de-escalate the conflict
– Never take sides, but try together with the parties involved to resolve the conflict without discrimination
– Find different values or ‘rules of life’ that describe how you as colleagues speak and behave towards each other, as well as how you handle and read conflicts in the most fair manner


At the individual level

Pay attention to your behavior
If you experience the prelude to a conflict, or perhaps find yourself in a conflict with one or more colleagues, it is important that you go to your union representative, working environment representative or immediate manager immediately.

Are you in a conflict yourself?

Then you must pay attention to the following:


– Keep the focus on the matter – on what ‘it’s about’
– Try to maintain a constructive and proper tone
– Explore solutions that both parties can be satisfied with
– Seek support from colleagues who may be able to help you see some other perspectives on the matter
– Be open, be a listener and try to put yourself into the other’s perspective


It is never easy to find yourself in a conflict – and certainly not at work!

Despite the discomfort, it is just so extraordinarily important that you do something active to get it resolved – as soon as possible.

Otherwise, you risk that the conflict will poison the relationship – and the entire working environment – over time.



Example of an action initiative from the real world

If you use Woba as a platform, we have a whole action plan module to fill out.
And when your surveys have been run through and all risk areas have been located, we automatically also provide recommendations for action measures that you can work from and implement.

Drawing up action plans and specific action measures is a requirement for your Health and Safety Assessment to be legally binding.

But what is more important, it is also essential for your working environment, general well-being and employees’ well-being and health.

Because problems such as bullying MUST be taken seriously and dealt with.

A concrete action initiative could, for example, look like this:


‘In continuation of our most recent Health and Safety Assessment, an expression has been given that we have a case of bullying in the company.’


‘As management, we clearly distance ourselves from being bullied in the workplace. We must respect each other and be respected for who we are – therefore we must also have a culture of well-being, where we ensure that if you feel bullied, that we can talk about it, as well as if someone witnesses bullying actively take steps against this . We define a clear bullying policy, which is presented at an internal meeting. 


We recently had a course for selected employees in relation to getting to know each other’s types, and learning to understand why you act the way you do.
We are trying to spread the action from here to a course for the entire staff.’


Here it is one of our customers who has drawn up a plan for the problem and implemented a concrete action plan.

From here, an important step in the process is the follow-up work. Because do the action measures really work as intended?

Run a pulse survey after a few months and see the effect (or lack of effect) on the work environment.

Perhaps the surveys have already worked and well-being has increased. Or maybe it is not the most effective action plans you have implemented – well, then you become much wiser and then it is simply back to the drawing board in relation to a new direction.

No matter what, intensive well-being work – in particular when it concerns bullying – will show the employees that they are taken very seriously and that their well-being is a priority from the management’s perspective.

Because no one deserves to be bullied.

Neither at home nor at work.

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Transform the Employee Engagement Survey into actionable insights

Employee engagement surveys are a critical HR tool, designed to unlock your organization’s potential. They gauge employee well-being, drive talent retention, boost productivity, and support continuous HR improvement.

Much like conducting scientific research, the journey of knowledge and business intelligence within the realm of human resources starts with simple questions. These questions can vary widely. They’re born from curiosity, assumptions, and a desire to understand the intricacies of your organization’s people. The key is to focus on what’s essential, practical, and relevant to your unique organization.


In this article, the specific type of question you aim to answer with robust evidence is not the primary focus. Instead, the emphasis lies on the approach and methods you employ to design and collect data for your employee engagement survey in the most effective manner possible.


From gut feelings to a data-driven approach in Employee Engagement Surveys

We will show you how to shift from relying on your gut feelings to using a more solid, scientific, and data-driven approach in your employee engagement surveys. This change will help you improve your HR-business intelligence, make decisions and recommendations based on real evidence, and implement effective programs and initiatives where they matter most – for both your people and the organization as a whole.


The success of your organization depends on your role as an HR architect, and we’re here to support you. So, get ready to learn more about creating and conducting a quantitative staff engagement survey.


What is an Employee Engagement Survey?

An employee engagement survey serves as a valuable tool for gauging the sentiments of your workforce concerning their overall work-life experience. These surveys, usually in the form of questionnaires, are tailored to capture employees’ thoughts, feedback, and perceptions related to their work environment and their overall experiences within the organization.

In HR, you’re tasked with answering essential questions, such as:

  • How engaged are our employees?
  • Are they more engaged than last year?
  • Does the level of engagement vary across employee segments?
  • What’s our turnover rate, and how can we reduce it?
  • To what extent do they feel included in the workplace, and how can we empower this sense of inclusion?
  • How do they perceive their current job resources?
  • Do we know enough about employees’ viewpoints when designing programs and initiatives to enhance their psychological safety?


The insights derived from these surveys are a treasure trove for HR professionals. They provide a deeper understanding of the workforce’s engagement levels and well-being, ultimately leading to a more motivated and productive team. These surveys play a vital role in ensuring that the organization can adapt to change and sustain a people-centric approach, where employee satisfaction and commitment are at the forefront of HR strategies.

To fully comprehend the importance of employee engagement in HR, we suggest you read our article Employee Engagement – Definition, Relevance & Strategy.


Designing your Employee Engagement Survey questions: Close-ended questions, open-ended questions or a mix of the two?

Creating a good employee engagement survey requires thorough preparation, and it’s always crucial to have a clear problem statement. When the survey is based on interviews or questionnaires, a well-defined problem statement serves as the foundation for subsequently formulating clear questions. But how do you formulate effective questions for a survey?

When conducting employee engagement surveys, one of the many decisions you have to make is the inclusion of different types of questions. In quantitative research designs, we typically have the option to design our research around:

  • Close-ended questions: offer respondents a limited set of predefined answer options, making them a common choice for surveys aiming to gather quantitative data.
  • Multiple choice questions: provide respondents with answer choices, such as age groups or preferences, where they select the most appropriate option.
  • Simple binary (e.g yes, no) questions: Can help ascertain binary responses, such as whether an individual received adequate training.
  • Ordinal scaled (e.g. likert scaled) questions and open-ended questions: gauge satisfaction levels on a scale, usually ranging from “strongly disagree” to “strongly agree.”


Such structured questions are valuable in obtaining clear, structured data, facilitating analysis and comparison, and are often employed to assess demographics, preferences, attitudes, and behaviors.


Open-Ended Questions vs. Closed-Ended Questions in an Employee Engagement Survey

Open-ended questions in an employee engagement survey differ from their closed-ended counterparts as they invite respondents to provide detailed, free-text responses. These questions encourage respondents to share their thoughts, feelings, and suggestions in their own words.

For instance, an open-ended question might ask employees to describe their biggest challenges at work or provide suggestions for improving the workplace. These responses are valuable for uncovering nuanced insights, identifying unexpected issues, and gaining a deeper understanding of the employee experience. They offer context to the quantitative data gathered from closed-ended questions and help interpret the “why” behind the numbers, making them an essential part of a comprehensive employee engagement survey.


You need to consider whether it’s most appropriate to use closed-ended questions or open-ended questions in employee engagement surveys for several reasons:


Benefits of using close-ended questions:

  • Provide structured and quantifiable data. They are ideal for measuring specific aspects of employee engagement, such as satisfaction with company policies, benefits, or job tasks. This structured format allows for easy comparison and analysis.
  • Ensure consistency in the response format, making it easier to analyze the data and identify trends over time. This is important when conducting surveys at regular intervals to track changes in employee engagement.
    Are quicker for respondents to answer, making the survey process more efficient. This can lead to higher response rates and more complete data.
  • They use Likert scales, which are commonly used in employee engagement surveys. This allows for benchmarking against industry standards and other organizations.
  • Allow for more objective data analysis, as responses are standardized and do not rely on the subjective interpretation of open-ended responses.


Benefits of using open-ended questions:

  • Allow employees to provide detailed, nuanced feedback. This can uncover issues or suggestions that might not be captured with closed-ended questions.
  • Employees feel heard and valued when they can express their thoughts in their own words. This can boost their engagement and satisfaction with the survey process.
  • Can reveal unexpected issues or opportunities that you may not have anticipated. They can provide insight into the “why” behind quantitative data.
  • Offer better contextual understanding than closed-ended data. They help interpret the quantitative findings and provide a richer understanding of the employee experience.



Employee Engagement Blog
Employee Engagement - Definition, Relevance & Strategy

We explore the employee engagement framework, including what employee engagement is and how to measure and improve it effectively in your company.


What is Employee Engagement?

An employee engagement definition, in short, refers to the emotional commitment and level of enthusiasm that employees have toward their jobs and their organization. However, this might be an oversimplification. Employee engagement is a multifaceted concept that goes beyond initial impressions.

But, much like the transformation of a simple acorn into a sprawling oak tree, the concept of employee engagement has undergone a remarkable evolution since its early days in the 1990s. It has grown to become not only an academic discipline but a pivotal operational practice in the realm of organizational human resource management.


As it gained widespread recognition, the concept of employee engagement, akin to the branches of an oak, has taken on a multitude of diverse forms and shapes. However, there is a significant departure from the analogy of the oak tree. Unlike the tree’s natural evolution, the concept of employee engagement isn’t meant to outgrow its origins.

With the burgeoning popularity of this field, we witness an unintended consequence—an increase in inconsistency and confusion regarding the application of employee engagement as a means to study well-being within modern organizations.


The very essence of employee engagement becomes obscured in the midst of this transformation, leaving us to grapple with the challenge of aligning its core principles with its expanding interpretations. However, we don’t need a multitude of complex definitions or branches when it comes to employee engagement. What we truly need is clarity. We need to ensure that an evidence-based approach, rooted in decades of well-established research, is easily accessible. Furthermore, we need to bridge the gap between the scientific realm and the practical applications of employee engagement in HR.


This article aims to help you better understand some challenging questions:
What is employee engagement and how can we create a simple way to measure employee engagement effectively?


The Employee Engagement Framework

While simple answers to these intricate questions may remain elusive, our objective is to contribute to the ongoing effort to comprehend employee engagement. We aim to do this by retracing the concept to its origins and provide a systematic overview of how it has been operationalized by different scholars and researchers over the past decades. This, in turn, should pave the way for a more concise framework for proactively, strategically, and operationally addressing employee engagement as a means to nurture happier employees, more effective teams, and enhanced organizational outcomes.


We will delve into some of the most validated constructs and definitions of employee engagement that the academic research field has to offer. This is in pursuit of setting a benchmark by replicating sound, evidence-based approaches and standards from the world of science.

Once we’ve clarified the definitions and constructs, we’ll shift our focus to the practical dimension. Here, we’ll inspire you to implement measurement scales that effectively capture the various facets of employee work engagement while ensuring validity and reliability.

Finally, we’ll wrap it up with insights on how to cultivate and enhance engagement within your organization, enabling you to harness the myriad benefits of high employee engagement.


Why is a clear(er) definition of employee engagement important?

To effectively study and understand any phenomenon, we require clear and unified approaches to grasp that specific subject. In the realm of Human Resources (HR), a precise definition becomes crucial due to variations in understanding among different consultancy branches, HR departments, and top-level executives.

The confusion often arises from whether employee engagement equates to elements like job satisfaction, commitment, or motivation. And when it comes to satisfaction, employee engagement and satisfaction are evidently not the same psychological construct, so merging them in one measure can simply be counterproductive.

But this conceptual ambiguity not only introduces imprecision, but also leads to a view of criticism, with some dismissing employee engagement as a mere rebranding or a superficial trend in HR.


However, employee engagement is not merely another superficial HR concept. The view has led some to argue that ‘the concept of employee engagement needs to be more clearly defined … or it needs to be abandoned’. Skeptics have long argued that the term ‘engagement’ is likely to fall out of usage at some point because it lacks substance or distinctiveness. As well as being challenged for a lack of clear definition, it is also seen to be a relabelling of existing constructs, and thus redundant.

Unfortunately, this criticism sometimes overshadows the importance of employee engagement in thriving organizations, where the neglect of it is more evident than proactive efforts to improve it.


Challenges with composite engagement measures

We stand with CIPD in the discussion on and well-argumented criticsm about how consultancy and management practices often creates more “old wine in new bottles”, “fads and fashions” or “been there, bottled that” – see their discussion report from January 2021.

Because a number of consultancy firms have developed (their “own one-point-of-questionable-truth”) composite measures of engagement along these lines. Gallup’s Q12 is just one example of a tool widely used by consultants and practitioners, but it doesn’t always meet the standards of academic research. Some scholars have raised concerns about its validity and consider it a composite measure lacking in scientific rigor.

When developing a reliable measure, it’s not enough to group survey items together and give them a name. Validation is key. The measure should be tested against similar and different constructs to show it behaves as expected in theory. To put it simply, merging various measures into a single score doesn’t work like magic. It results in a confusing mix of metrics, making it hard to interpret the data.


For instance, when an organization wants to gauge employee engagement, it might involve many aspects such as alignment with company goals, using one’s strengths, satisfaction with pay, and relationships with managers. Combining all of these into one score makes it difficult to understand what’s driving differences or improvements. This could very well be the reason why Bailey et al. (2015), in a systematic study review, chose to exclude studies relying on the Q12 due to concerns that it serves as a broad, all-encompassing measure lacking in validity.

Advocates of composite measures might argue that you can break them down, but this can lead to a loose collection of measures that may not provide clear insights. While it’s understandable that employers are interested in various aspects of employee experiences, it’s crucial for measures to be precise and focused. Often, it’s more effective to consider these aspects individually – especially if you wish to investigate the relationship between engagement and relevant independent variables in a regression analysis (which, essentially, requires the dependent variable to be measured!).


The need for clarity

So. Why was a clear definition and understandable conceptualization important again? Because creating a work environment where employee engagement thrives is crucial for organizations, as it leads to positive outcomes like lower turnover, reduced absenteeism, higher job satisfaction, increased efficiency, and productivity.


To become more data-driven and implement progressive HR initiatives, research consistently emphasizes the significance of employee engagement. It all starts with defining the core concept and how it has evolved over the years in various evidence-based interpretations explored in applied research.

And hence, we move forward to where we position ourselves, when we assist, consult, advocate and what-not our clients about employee engagement. A definition. A clear one that’s scientifically grounded.


Survey Fatique 1300x700
Employee Survey Fatigue - How to ensure better response rates

In recent years, our exposure to quantitative employee surveys have increased – which also applies to the organizational field of research. The rise in digital survey platforms and easier distribution methods has led to more frequent workplace survey invitations, but it’s also caused a drop in the response rate.


This leads to Survey Fatigue:

When respondents lose interest in your surveys because of the overwhelming frequency of survey requests or the extensive effort and questions involved in completing them.


This, in turn, can create unfortunate barriers to the validity and representativeness of your engagement surveys in general. As employee engagement surveys gain increasing popularity, the quest for high response rates and valuable insights presents growing challenges. Organizations seek to assess their employees’ work life, but these hurdles cannot be ignored.

In this article, we’ll unveil the concept of survey fatigue and provide strategies to combat this silent adversary of quantitative research designs.


What are the main risks about Survey Fatigue?

When it comes to employee engagement surveys, there are a couple of key issues related to survey fatigue that you should be aware of.

  • First, you might run into a problem of nonresponse. This means that some employees may not participate, which can affect the accuracy of your insights and your ability to make general conclusions.
  • Second, you could end up with data that’s not entirely reliable because tired participants might hurry through the survey, giving quick answers without really paying attention to the questions.


The factors contributing to declining response rates

There are several factors contributing to declining response rates.

Firstly, there’s a proliferation of surveys, as more and more companies and organizations use them to gather opinions. This, along with the growing number of survey service providers and an increasing interest in data-driven decision-making, is causing what we call survey fatigue.

Another important point is that people who don’t respond to surveys are often more likely to contemplate leaving their jobs and generally report lower job satisfaction and less contentment with their supervisors compared to those who do respond.

What this means is that if a company’s HR department doesn’t receive feedback from these dissatisfied individuals, the data they collect may not accurately represent the reality. It could provide a more positive but inaccurate picture of the situation.


Lack of communication and followed actions from surveys triggers fatigue!

A research review performed by McKinsey showed that the number one driver of survey fatigue among participants is when they believe the organization won’t take any action based on the survey results.

On the flip side, when organizations not only run employee engagement surveys but also actively share relevant information and take appropriate actions based on the feedback, it encourages more employees to take part in current and future surveys.

Clearly, the crucial takeaway here is that employee surveys should be seen as a tool for making meaningful improvements, not just a metric by itself.


Natacha Weinreich Elmer

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