More Than Half of Israeli Workers Say They Suffer Abuse on the Job

Survey shows 55.4% of Israel's working population were harassed at work - far more than in other Western countries.

One of every two workers suffers bullying or abuse in the workplace, and it costs the economy in terms of lost productivity.

These are the findings of a survey by the Research and Economics Administration in the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry of 1,120 salaried workers.

The survey, taken last year, shows that 55.4% of Israel's working population, some 1.5 million people, were occasionally or frequently harassed at work during 2011 by managers, colleagues or customers - well in excess of the 30% average reported for Western countries and 35% in the United States.

The survey defines harassment as "verbally or psychologically abusive conduct perceived by the workers themselves as offensive behavior."

Israeli workers have gotten used to being mistreated, even abused, but admit it severely impedes their ability to function: 44% say that such indignities are a serious problem at their workplace. About half claim it afflicts their motivation and quality of life.

"An enormous proportion of workers in Israel is exposed to mistreatment," says Benny Pfefferman, head of the ministry's Research and Economics Administration. "This figure attests to Israel's problematic managerial culture. Managers allow themselves too much leeway, and by hurting others they also hurt themselves. Good employees pick up and leave, and this takes a significant economic toll."

The survey reveals that about 37% of workers suffered at the hands of their managers, 33.6% from of colleagues and 23.1% from customers.

Being drunk with power is one likely impetus to offensive behavior on the part of managers. Anat Rafaeli, who teaches organizational behavior at the Technion's faculty of industrial engineering and management, explains that studies have found that a person who expresses anger is perceived as being more powerful than one who expresses feelings like compassion, sadness or guilt.

Rafaeli says that in many cases customers who rant and rave get the most attention. "If the behavior exists then it must probably have some benefit," she says.

Abuse leads to a sharp decline in productivity, not just because of the difficulty of working in a threatening environment but also because it leads to absenteeism.

The survey found that 12% of workers exposed to harassment arrived late for work at least once a month, 10% take frequent breaks and 5.4% shorten their workday, while another 3.5% claim to be sick and don't show up at all.

Regarding the Israeli worker, Pfefferman said "the big story - the one nobody talks about - is the set of relationships between employees, managers and customers in the workplace. This has far-reaching implications on productivity. While the rest of the world is dealing with the issue and working to eliminate harassment, here nobody's doing anything."

Bloomberg