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Coworker violence and gender

Findings from the National Violence Against Women Survey1

      Abstract

      Background: To further the understanding of coworker violence, we analyzed data from the National Violence Against Women (NVAW) Survey on the prevalence and characteristics of coworker violence among women and men, and compared the prevalence of coworker violence with violence perpetrated by other types of perpetrators.
      Methods: The NVAW Survey was conducted during November 1995–May 1996 and consists of telephone interviews with a representative sample of 8000 U.S. women and 8000 U.S. men aged ≥18 years about their experiences as victims of violence by all types of perpetrators, including coworkers.
      Results: Lifetime coworker victimization rates varied significantly between women and men (1.1% and 2.3%, respectively), while annual victimization rates were the same (0.1%). Both women and men were more likely to be victimized by a stranger, intimate partner, or other type of acquaintance/family member than a coworker. Women victims of coworker violence were significantly more likely than their men counterparts to be raped or stalked, and significantly less likely to be physically assaulted. No significant differences were found between female and male coworker violence victims with respect to race, age, education, or rate of injury; however, female victims were significantly more likely to lose time from work as a result of their victimization and to report their victimization to the police.
      Conclusions: An estimated 1.1 million U.S. women and 2.3 million U.S. men have ever been victimized by a current or former coworker, while 100,697 U.S. women and 92,748 U.S. men are victimized by a current or former coworker annually.

      Keywords

      Background

      Coworker violence first garnered widespread concern following the 1986 Edmond, Oklahoma–post office slayings in which a disgruntled employee killed 14 fellow workers and then himself.

      Larson E. Trigger happy—a false crisis: how workplace violence became a hot issue. Wall Street Journal, 13 October 1994:A1.

      Since then, media reports of shootings by angry employees have become almost commonplace and concerns about U.S. workers “going postal” have intensified.

      Larson E. Trigger happy—a false crisis: how workplace violence became a hot issue. Wall Street Journal, 13 October 1994:A1.

      Despite increased concerns about coworker violence, research on the topic has been limited. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) tracks workplace fatalities and work-related injuries and illnesses,
      The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has two primary workplace violence surveillance systems—the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI) and the Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illness (SOII). The CFOI uses multiple data sources (i.e., death certificates, worker-compensation reports and claims, and Occupational Safety and Health Administration files and news articles) to generate information on the prevalence and source of fatal workplace violence. The SOII uses business safety records from a representative sample of businesses in the private sector to generate information on nonfatal injuries that result in the victim taking 1 or more days off from work.
      but has no such tracking system for nonfatal or non-injurious acts of violence perpetrated by coworkers.
      • Hewitt J.B
      • Levin P.F
      Violence in the workplace.
      The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), which tracks crimes committed by all types of perpetrators in all types of settings,
      The Bureau of Justice Statistics’ National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) generates annual estimates of the number of people aged ≥12 years who are victims of rape, aggravated and simple assault, robbery, and sexual assault. The NCVS sample consists of housing units selected from a stratified multistage cluster sample. When a sample unit is selected for inclusion in the NCVS, U.S. Census workers interview all individuals in the household aged ≥12 years, every 6 months for 3 years.
      has conducted two studies on workplace violence

      Bachman R. Violence and theft in the workplace: crime data brief. NCJ 148199. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, July 1994 .

      ,

      Warchol G. Workplace violence, 1992–96; special report. NCJ 168634. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, July 1998.

      ; however, both studies combine data on violence perpetrated by coworkers with other types of workplace violence, such as violence perpetrated by current or former intimates of the employee, violence perpetrated by disgruntled clients and customers, and violence perpetrated against employees during robberies and other commercial crimes. Several studies examine employee-on-employee anger, aggression, and violence in individual work settings
      • Barling J
      The prediction, experience, and consequences of workplace violence.
      ,
      • Baron R.A
      • Neuman J.H
      Workplace aggression—the iceberg beneath the tip of workplace violence evidence of its forms, frequency, and targets.
      ,
      • Baron R.A
      • Neuman J.H
      Workplace violence and workplace aggression evidence on their relative frequency and causes.
      ,
      • Budd J.W
      • Avery R.D
      • Lawless P
      Correlates and consequences of workplace violence.
      ,

      Gibson DE, Barsade SG. The experiences of anger at work: lessons from the chronically angry. Paper presented at the Academy of Management, Chicago, IL, August 11, 1999.

      ,

      Reuters. Study finds chronic anger in U.S. workplace. Available at: www.cnn.com/HEALTH/9908/11/anger.reut/. Accessed 11 August 1999.

      ,
      • Tripp T.M
      • Bies R.J
      What’s good about revenge? The avenger’s perspective.
      (and Glomb TM, Carlson School of Management, University of Minnesota, unpublished obsevations, 1999), but none examines such violence nationally. Thus, empiric data have been lacking on such fundamental questions about coworker violence as:
      • How prevalent is coworker violence in the United States?
      • What are characteristics of victims and perpetrators of coworker violence?
      • What types of violence do victims of coworker violence typically experience?
      • How often are victims of coworker violence injured?
      • How often is coworker violence reported to the police?
      To address these and related questions, we analyzed data from the National Violence Against Women (NVAW) Survey on the prevalence and characteristics of coworker violence in the United States. Because we suspected that women’s and men’s experiences with coworker violence were different, we conducted separate analyses for women and men. To place our findings in context, we also compared the prevalence of coworker violence with violence perpetrated by other types of perpetrators.

      Methods

      The NVAW Survey is a nationally representative telephone survey of 8000 U.S. men and 8000 U.S. women aged ≥18 years that was conducted from November 1995 to May 1996. The sample was generated through random-digit dialing, and the interviews were conducted using a computer–assisted telephone interviewing system. The survey used behaviorally specific questions to query respondents about forcible rape, physical assault, stalking, and threats to physically harm or kill that they experienced throughout their lifetime by all types of perpetrators. Respondents disclosing victimization were asked whether their perpetrator was a current or former intimate partner (spouse, cohabiting partner, date or boyfriend/girlfriend), a family member other than a spouse, a friend/acquaintance, or a stranger. Respondents who were victimized by a friend/acquaintance were asked to further specify their relationship with this friend/acquaintance (e.g., friend, neighbor, boss, supervisor, coworker, or teacher). Respondents disclosing victimization also were asked detailed questions about the characteristics and consequences of their victimization, including when it occurred, whether it resulted in injury, whether it was reported to the police, and whether it caused them to lose time from work.

      Tjaden P, Leadbetter S, Boyle J, Bardwell RA. National violence against women: methodology report. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. In press.

      For purposes of this study we defined coworker violence as violence (rape, physical assault, stalking, and threat to physically harm or kill) that is committed by someone with whom the victim has a current or former working relationship, but not an intimate relationship. Included in this category are current and former bosses, supervisors, coworkers, co-volunteers, or employees. The violence may occur inside or outside the workplace setting, and it may or may not result in physical injury, psychological trauma, or a report to the police or other official agency. Our definition of coworker violence is similar to the definition of employee-on-employee violence identified by the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration (Cal/OSHA) as Type III workplace violence.

      California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (CAL-OSHA). Model injury and illness prevention program for workplace security. San Francisco, CA: Department of Industrial Relations, Division of Occupational Safety and Health, 1994.

      The California definition distinguishes among violence perpetrated by current and former coworkers, violence perpetrated by current or former intimates of employees, violence perpetrated by disgruntled clients/customers, and violence perpetrated against employees during robberies and other commercial crimes.
      We analyzed the data using SPSS Base 7.0 for Windows software. We calculated measures of association between nominal-level independent and dependent variables, and used the chi-square statistic to test for statistically significant differences between women and men (p≤0.05).

      Results

      Prevalence of coworker violence

      Among survey respondents, 86 women (1.1%) and 184 men (2.3%) reported being victimized by a current or former coworker at some time in their lifetime, while 10 women (0.1%) and 7 men (0.1%) reported being victimized by a current or former coworker in the 12 months before the interview (see Table 1). A comparison of coworker victimization rates by gender shows that women were significantly less likely than men to report being victimized by a coworker over their lifetime, but were nearly equally likely to report being victimized by a coworker in the previous 12 months.
      Table 1Percentage of women and men victimized in lifetime and previous 12 months by type of perpetrator as measured by the National Violence Against Women Survey
      Type of perpetratorVictimized in lifetime (%)
      Women (n = 8000)Men (n = 8000)χ2
      Coworker
      p ≤ 0.001.
      1.12.336.2
      Intimate partner
      p ≤ 0.001.
      25.78.2867.8
      Stranger
      p ≤ 0.001.
      7.627.01053.7
      Other family member/acquaintance
      p ≤ 0.001.
      14.518.955.7
      Any of the above
      p ≤ 0.001.
      37.544.580.7
      Type of perpetratorVictimized in previous 12 months (%)
      Women (n = 8000)Men (n = 8000)χ2
      Coworker0.10.10.5
      Intimate partner
      p ≤ 0.001.
      1.81.113.4
      Stranger
      p ≤ 0.001.
      0.51.866.4
      Other family member/acquaintance
      p ≤ 0.001.
      0.91.511.8
      Any of the above
      p ≤ 0.001.
      3.24.313.9
      p ≤ 0.001.
      These findings persist even when only those respondents who were employed at the time of the survey are considered. Specifically, 4708 women (58.0%) and 5993 men (74.9%) were in the military or employed part-time or full-time at the time of the interview. Among these employed respondents, 66 women (1.4%) and 144 men (2.4%) reported being victimized by a coworker at some time in their lifetime, while 7 women (0.1%) and 7 men (0.1%) reported being victimized by a coworker in the previous 12 months. (Estimates for employed respondents are not shown in tables.)
      Both women and men were less likely to report being victimized by a coworker than a stranger, intimate, or other family member/acquaintance. While 1.1% of surveyed women said that they were victimized by a coworker, 25.7% said that they were victimized by an intimate, 7.6% said that they were victimized by a stranger, and 14.5% said that they were victimized by an acquaintance or family member other than a spouse. Among men, 2.3% said that they were victimized by a coworker, 8.2% said that they were victimized by an intimate, 27.0% said that they were victimized by a stranger, and 18.9% said that they were victimized by an acquaintance or family member other than a spouse (see Table 1).

      Characteristics of coworker violence

      As Table 2 indicates, female and male coworker violence victims differed significantly with respect to the type of violence they experienced. Among female victims, 26.7% were raped, 33.7% were physically assaulted, 39.5% were stalked, and 8.1% were threatened. Among male victims, 3.8% were raped, 79.3% were physically assaulted, 6.5% were stalked, and 15.8% were threatened.
      Table 2Distribution of female and male coworker violence victims by type of victimization as measured by the National Violence Against Women Survey
      Type of victimizationFemale victims (%) (n = 86)Male victims (%) (n = 184)χ2
      Rape
      p ≤ 0.001.
      26.73.831.2
      Physical assault
      p ≤ 0.001.
      33.779.353.5
      Stalking
      p ≤ 0.001.
      39.56.545.2
      Threat8.115.82.9
      p ≤ 0.001.
      There was little difference between female and male coworker violence victims with respect to age, race, or education (see Table 3). At the time of victimization, the average age of female victims was 27, and for male victims, 28. Most female and male victims were white (78.8% and 86.0%, respectively) and most had more than a high school education at the time of the interview (76.5% and 66.8%, respectively). The vast majority of both female and male victims reported that their perpetrator was male; however, male victims were significantly more likely than female victims to do so (97.0% and 78.0%, respectively).
      Table 3Distribution of female and male coworker violence victims by select characteristics of the victim, perpetrator, and incident outcome as measured by the National Violence Against Women Survey
      CharacteristicFemale victims (%)Male victims (%)χ2
      Victim was white, non-Hispanic(n = 85)(n = 178)2.1
      Yes78.886.0
      No21.214.0
      Victim had more than a high school education(n = 85)(n = 184)2.6
      Yes76.566.8
      No23.533.2
      Perpetrator was male
      p ≤ 0.001.
      (n = 82)(n = 183)29.1
      Yes78.097.0
      No22.03.0
      Victim was injured(n = 47)(n = 150)0.4
      Yes25.521.3
      No74.578.7
      Victim lost time from work (outside the home)
      p ≤ 0.001.
      (n = 78)(n = 179)15.0
      Yes25.67.8
      No74.492.2
      Violence was reported to the police
      p ≤ 0.001.
      (n = 77)(n = 179)4.7
      Yes27.315.6
      No72.784.4
      Average age of victim (years)27.328.3
      p ≤ 0.001.
      There was no significant difference between female and male victims with respect to rate of injury by a coworker: About a quarter of the female victims (25.5%) and a fifth of the male victims (21.3%) said that they were injured during their most-recent victimization by a coworker (see Table 3). Female victims were significantly more likely than male victims to relate that they lost time from work as a result of their victimization (25.6% and 7.8%, respectively) and that they reported their victimization to the police (27.3% and 15.6%, respectively).

      Conclusions

      We found that 1.1% of all surveyed women and 2.3% of all surveyed men reported being victimized by a current or former coworker at some time in their lifetime, while 0.1% of all surveyed women and men reported being victimized by a current or former coworker in the 12 months before the interview. Based on U.S. Census population estimates, about 1.1 million U.S. women and 2.1 million U.S. men aged ≥18 years have been victimized by a current or former coworker in their lifetime, while 100,697 U.S. women and 92,748 U.S. men aged ≥18 years are victimized by a current or former coworker each year. (There were 100,697,000 women and 92,748,000 men in the United States aged ≥18 years at the time of the survey.

      Wetrogen SI. Projections of the population of states by age, sex, and race: 1988 to 2010. Washington, DC: U.S. Bureau of the Census, Current Population Reports, 1988:25–1017.

      ) Thus, an estimated 193,455 people aged ≥18 years are victimized by a coworker annually in the United States. This estimate constitutes an annual coworker violence victimization rate of one adult per 1000.
      While not directly comparable, estimates generated from BLS and BJS tracking systems provide a context for the coworker violence prevalence estimates generated from this study. The BLS reports that 6%–7% of all work-related homicides and work-related injuries resulting in the victim taking time off from work are committed by a coworker.

      Bureau of Labor Statistics. Census of fatal occupational injuries, 1993–98. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Labor, 1999.

      ,

      Toscano G, Weber W. Patterns of fatal workplace assaults differ from those of nonfatal ones: violence in the workplace. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Labor, 1995.

      The BJS reports that 1–2 million people aged ≥12 years become victims of a violent crime while at work or on duty each year.

      Bachman R. Violence and theft in the workplace: crime data brief. NCJ 148199. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, July 1994 .

      ,

      Warchol G. Workplace violence, 1992–96; special report. NCJ 168634. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, July 1998.

      Assuming (from BLS estimates) that 7% of the 1–2 million workplace victimizations reported by the BJS are committed by a current or former coworker, it can be inferred from BLS and BJS tracking systems that an estimated 70,000–140,000 people aged ≥12 years are victims of nonfatal coworker violence in the United States annually. These estimates are lower than the annual number of coworker violence victims estimated from this study, using data from the NVAW Survey, which is 193,455 people aged ≥18 years. Further research is needed to determine whether estimates generated from the NVAW Survey reflect the true amount of coworker violence perpetrated against women and men annually in the United States.
      Although women were significantly less likely than men to report being victimized by a coworker over their lifetime, they were equally likely to report being victimized by a coworker in the previous 12 months. These findings persist even when comparisons are made only between women and men who were in the military or employed either part-time or full-time at the time of the survey. It is unclear why women and men differ with respect to their lifetime experiences with coworker violence, but not their annual experiences. It is possible that men are at greater risk of coworker violence over their lifetime because they are in the workplace for longer periods of time. However, this conclusion is speculative and requires further investigation.
      The present study indicates that coworker violence is a relatively rare phenomenon compared with violence committed by other types of perpetrators. Women were 23 times more likely to report being victimized by an intimate partner, 13 times more likely to report being victimized by a family member or acquaintance, and 7 times more likely to report being victimized by a stranger than a coworker over their lifetime. Similarly, men were 12 times more likely to report being victimized by a stranger, 8 times more likely to report being victimized by a family member or acquaintance, and 4 times more likely to report being victimized by an intimate partner than a coworker over their lifetime. These findings suggest that coworkers do not pose a serious threat to most women and men in the United States, especially when compared with the frequency of violence perpetrated against women by intimate partners and the frequency of violence perpetrated against men by strangers.
      We also found that women and men experience different kinds of coworker violence. Women were significantly more likely than men to report being raped or stalked by coworkers, while men were significantly more likely to report being physically assaulted. These findings are consistent with findings from a study by the BJS

      Warchol G. Workplace violence, 1992–96; special report. NCJ 168634. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, July 1998.

      that found men are more likely to be victims of simple and aggravated assault in the workplace, while women are more likely to be victims of rape and sexual assault.
      In addition, we found that coworker violence is perpetrated largely by men. More than 75% of the women and nearly all of the men who reported being victims of coworker violence said that they were victimized by a man. These findings are consistent with previous research that shows men are the primary perpetrators of violence.

      Craven D. Sex differences in violent victimization, 1995: special report. NCJ 164508. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, September 1997.

      ,

      Tjaden P, Thoennes N. Full report on the prevalence, incidence, and consequences of violence against women: findings from the National Violence Against Women Survey. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice, November 2000.

      The study indicates that female victims of coworker violence may suffer more serious consequences than their male counterparts. Although there was no significant difference between female and male victims with respect to rate of injury by a coworker, female victims were significantly more likely to report that they lost time from work as a result of their victimization and that they sought law enforcement intervention. More research is needed on how victims of coworker violence cope with their victimization and whether women and men have different coping skills. Research is also needed on the circumstances that lead victims of coworker violence to seek intervention from the justice system or some other official agency, and on their experiences when they do seek such interventions.
      In summary, this study presents much-needed information on the prevalence and characteristics of coworker violence. However, it should be considered only a first step in understanding both the extent and nature of coworker violence in the United States. In particular, annual prevalence estimates generated from the study should be viewed with caution given the small number of respondents (N=17) who reported being victimized by a coworker in the previous 12 months.
      Moreover, because the NVAW Survey was not specifically designed to study coworker violence, the present study has several limitations. First, the study did not measure employee-on-employee homicides, robberies, and sexual assaults other than rape. Thus, our prevalence estimates probably under-represent the true amount of coworker violence in the United States. Second, the study does not take into account how length of time spent in the workplace impacts risk of coworker violence. This factor, more than any other, may account for men reporting higher rates of coworker violence over their lifetime than do women. Third, the study does not consider how characteristics of the place of employment or the type of job impact coworker violence rates. Whether a person works in an industrial setting or an office, the military or a university, may have a profound effect on his or her risk of coworker violence. Similarly, whether a person is in a management position or being managed may affect his or her risk of being victimized by a coworker. In addition, the number and gender of employees in the work setting may affect a person’s chances of being victimized by a coworker. These questions were beyond the scope of this study.
      Clearly, more research is needed on the social, demographic, and environmental factors that are associated with coworker violence. In addition, more research is needed on the relationship between coworker violence and other less extreme forms of employee-on-employee aggression, i.e., yelling at a person, communicating in offensive or harassing ways, and withholding important information from a coworker. Previous research shows that this type of employee-on-employee aggression is far more prevalent than coworker violence.
      • Baron R.A
      • Neuman J.H
      Workplace aggression—the iceberg beneath the tip of workplace violence evidence of its forms, frequency, and targets.
      ,
      • Baron R.A
      • Neuman J.H
      Workplace violence and workplace aggression evidence on their relative frequency and causes.
      Without further research, it is unclear to what extent these lesser forms of coworker violence are precursors to more serious forms of coworker violence.

      Acknowledgements

      This research was supported by grant number 93-IJ-CX-0012, awarded to the Center for Policy Research by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). We thank Lois Mock of NIJ and Linda Saltzman of the CDC for their support on the project and anonymous reviewers who provided helpful comments on drafts of this report. Findings and conclusions of the research reported here are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the funding agencies.

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