Mobbing among nurses: an empirical study


Andrea Silva PintoI; António João Santos NunesII

I Nurse. Master in Health Units Management. Universidade da Beira Interior. Covilhã, Portugal. E-mail: andreass.enf@gmail.com
II Ph.D. Assistant Professor. Núcleo de Estudos em Ciências Empresariais (NECE). Departamento de Economia e Gestão. Universidade da Beira Interior. Covilhã. Portugal, E-mail: anunes@ubi.pt

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.12957/reuerj.2017.14460




Objective: to evaluate for the existence of mobbing behaviors in nurses at a hospital in the Central Region of Portugal. Method: in this quantitative, correlational and cross-sectional descriptive study, data were collected from September 6 to 7 November 2014 by applying a questionnaire with a Mobbing Conduct Assessment Scale to a sample of 218 male nurses. The research project was approved by a research ethics committee (CAAE 56/2014). Results: 92.2% experienced at least one mobbing behavior. On average, nurses suffered 12 mobbing behaviors, with almost no effect and low intensity. Conclusion: age, frequent absences, academic qualifications, and life-changing non-professional circumstances are significantly related to at least one of the mobbing indices. Superiors who value performance and job satisfaction were significantly and inversely related to the existence of mobbing.

Keywords: Mobbing; bullying; nursing; causes.




Moral or psychological harassment, also called mobbing, turns out to be as old a phenomenon as labor relations are. However, higher levels have been identified on global scale, especially in countries with higher political1 and economic power, or in those patriarchal societies 2.

About 8.1% of the active population in Europe are victimized with mobbing3, a serious problem to management in view of its consequences, characterized by some as individually, organizationally, socially, and financially devastating4-6.

The theme has been investigated in Portugal within the health area 7-11. Therefore, prior studies are recalled11 as well as innovated by means of the use of the Mobbing Evaluation Scale (EACM).

Thus, this study aims at assessing mobbing among nurses at a hospital from the central region in Portugal.

To that end three investigation hypotheses have been created and tested. Hypothesis (H)1: There is a significant relation between social demographic variables and the three mobbing indices among nurses; H2: There is a significant relation between social professional variables and the three mobbing indices among nurses; H3: There is a significant relation between personal variables and the three mobbing indices among nurses.



Mobbing was originally investigated in the northern countries, taking on several terminologies. Here the term mobbing has been elected on the basis of its widespread use.12.

Mobbing studies have spread out to several countries 12-14 since the 1990's. The concept has been consolidated15-18 and mobbing has been defined as one or a set of humiliating, depreciating, and hostile attitudes, regarded as potential threats by one or more workers upon others. They are intentional attitudes aiming at socially destroying or excluding the victim. Causes stem from interpersonal relations among members of an organization16,17,19. There is a conflict between two parties in which the aggressor holds either more resources or a higher hierarchical position in relation to the victim 16-18. Aggression takes recurrent and systematic form causing the worker's slow physical and mental health annihilation16,17.

Several investigations have endeavored to identify the various mobbing-determining variables with outstanding social, organizational, and demographic characteristics. Organizational characteristics include multidisciplinary teams; routine; small self-governance4,6; conflicts and role ambiguity20,21; communication problems22; stress6,14,23; low pay, career issues and inequality about promotions24. Concerning demographic characteristics, nurses aged under 30 22,25 are more likely to undergo verbal abuse. Men are more often referred to for aggression in view of their more frequent leading positions26; however other investigations have it that men are more often victimized with mobbing than women are8-11. As for the victim's characteristics, most are solitary people, that is, single, widowed, or divorced 14. Victims with children are 88.7 times more vulnerable to mobbing attitudes in relation to the childless27. Also academic skills turn out to be a predicting variable to mobbing28,29.

Satisfaction at work30, high regard for work environment, and performance acknowledgement are negatively related to mobbing 8.

Consequences of mobbing can be devastating to several aspects of the individual's life (physical and psychic problems2,5,6,20,28 ), to the organization (job loss 5, lack of communication18, deterioration of professional relations20, absenteeism4,5,28, poor organizational image 2-4,31), and to society (deterioration of interpersonal relations and family conflicts)20,21.



The investigation was quantitative, with a correlational descriptive cross-cut character. Data collection took place from September 6 to November 7, 2014.Target population was comprised of nurses, out of which a sample was selected from a hospital at the central region in Portugal, who filled up a form generating a total of 218 instruments.

Data collection made use of a form including social demographic, social professional, and personal components, as well as the EACM, the validated scale to the Portuguese population10.

The scale allows for global mobbing indices, equivalent to Total Number of Psychological Harassment (NEAP); Global Psychological Harassment Index (IGAP); Medium Psychological Harassment Index (IMAP)10.

Data were statistically treated by means of the 21.0 version of the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences software (SPSS). Data analysis resorted to descriptive and inferential statistics, with the use of both the U de Mann-Whitney Test (U) and the multiple average comparison (M).

The research project was approved by the Ethical Committee and by the Management Counsel of the hospital where the study was carried out with the CAAE n.º 56/2014. Nurses were informed of both the volunteer participation and the objectives of the study. Each form was handed out in an envelope to ensure anonymity and data confidentiality.



Participation rate in the study was 55,3% of hospital nurses, study realm. Concerning sample characterization, women are outstanding (73%), enhancing the typically female nursing occupation7,8,10,11,17.

Age average is 39 years, with youngest and oldest nurses at 25 and 59 years of age, respectively. Wide majority is married (66.1%) and has children (73.9%). Such findings point to additional issues7,8,10,11,17.

As for institutional link, most are civil servants (54.6%), work on shifts (80.3%), are assiduous (98.1%), 73.9% of which are licensed 7,8,10,11,17.

It must be enhanced 57.3% stated their leadership acknowledges their work and 52.3% report satisfaction about their occupation, a result similar to a prior study11.

Whereas 82.1% of nurses report there no nonprofessional circumstances affecting their performance, 92.2% have undergone mobbing at least once, reinforcing prior research results8,11,17. On average, nurses undergo 12 mobbing attitudes at work8,17, with a near to nil effect (IGAP=0.5) as well as weak intensity (IMAP=1.8). However, despite intensity levels, mobbing duration can lead to serious pathologies or can aggravate existing ones32.

By means of inferential analysis, mobbing proves to be a work environment-related phenomenon, regardless of gender and civil status, hence a required rejection of H1 to such variables, for statistic differences are not expressive12,15,29.

When compared to the age variable, a highly significant difference stands out between age and the IMAP. On average, nurses within the 32-38 age group undergo more numerous mobbing attitudes when compared to nurses within the 46-59 age group. Partially accepted the H1 to the age variable, just to the IMAP, for statistic differences about that index are expressive. Identical results emerge elsewhere33, whose individuals located within the 34-45 age group undergo higher mobbing rates than those at lower age groups.

Results under the professional link variable show that mobbing is a work-related phenomenon, regardless of that variable. Hence the rejection of H2 to that variable, for statistic differences to that index are inexpressive17,29.

Concerning the influence of academic skills to mobbing, a statistically expressive relation stands out between academic skills and the IGAP. H2 can be regarded as partially accepted to academic skills variable and the IGAP, for statistic differences to that index are expressive. Thus, the higher the school level the higher the chances of undergoing mobbing17,29,33.

Results show that mobbing is a work-related phenomenon regardless of work hours, as shown on Table 1. Thus, H2 is rejected to work hours variable, for no statistic differences stand out 29.

TABLE 1: UMW test between global indices and shifts, frequent absences and superior value performance. Hospital of the Central Region of Portugal, September 6 to November 7, 2014.

(**)p<0.01 statistically significant difference; (***)p<0.001 highly significant statistical difference

Concerning absenteeism or regular absences, assiduous nurses show a higher IMAP than those who are absent, as shown on Table 1. Thus, H2 can be said to be partially accepted to the frequent absences variable and the IMAP, for differences to that index are significant18,20.

On average, nurses whose leadership do not acknowledge their performance are more vulnerable to mobbing than those nurses whose leadership acknowledge their performance, as shown on Table 1. H2 is accepted to the performance acknowledgement by leadership variable for differences to the three indices are significant8.

Nurses who are unhappy about their occupation show higher IGAP, IMAP, and NEAP, when compared to those who are happy about their occupation, according to Table 2. Thus, H3 is accepted to the professional satisfaction variable for differences to the three indices are significant 8. In the same context, additional studies show that mobbing is associated to low satisfaction among workers30,34.

TABLE 2: UMW test between global indices and professional satisfaction and non-professional circumstances affecting life. Hospital of the Central Region of Portugal, September 6 to November 7, 2014.

(**)p<0.01 statistically significant difference; (***)p<0.001 highly significant statistical difference

It must be registered that, on average, the nurses with nonprofessional circumstances affecting their lives have higher IGAP and NEAP, when compared to those who lack nonprofessional circumstances affecting their lives, as shown on Table 2. Thus, H3 can be partially accepted to the nonprofessional circumstances affecting life variable to the IGAP and the NEAP, for statistic differences to those indices are significant. Several studies report existing factors predisposing to mobbing, such as low pay, career issues, and inequality about promotion as well as financial problems24.



Considering mobbing translates a multidimensional psycho social phenomenon, nursing turns out to be a risk-specific occupation on account of its nature.

Among other factors shown in this investigation, 92.2% of nurses stand out for having undergone mobbing at least once.

By means of hypotheses tested, conclusions show that mobbing is a work-related phenomenon, unrelated to gender, civil status, work hours, and professional link to organization.

Results also show that age is expressively related to the IMAP; and academic skills bear a significant relation to the IGAP. As for the nonprofessional circumstances affecting life, those are significantly related to the IGAP and the NEAP.

Conclusions show that the only simultaneously statistically expressive variables to the three indices (NEAP, IGAP e IMAP) are professional satisfaction and acknowledgement from leadership. Those variables are inversely and significantly related to the identification of mobbing, that is, nurses whose leadership do not acknowledge their performance and nurses unhappy about their occupation are more highly vulnerable to mobbing when compared to those colleagues whose leaderships acknowledge their performance and to those who are professionally happy.

Thus, higher sensitivity by hospital leaders to the phenomenon becomes relevant, when it comes to implementing motivation policies, professional acknowledgement, and preventive strategies which, often generate no additional costs, yet an endeavor towards strategic, preventive, and management and organization performance in human resource management

Finally, additional investigation with significant samples are acknowledged for generalization of results and for widening the scope of investigation on mobbing to the implementation of preventive policies and to the assessment of the real impact of those policies upon the nurse category, in particular.



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