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Immigrants and natives at work: exposure to workplace bullying

Barbara Bergbom (Centre of Expertise: Development of Work and Organizations, Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, Helsinki, Finland)
Maarit Vartia-Vaananen (Centre of Expertise: Development of Work and Organizations, Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, Helsinki, Finland)
Ulla Kinnunen (School of Social Sciences and Humanities, University of Tampere, Tampere, Finland)

Employee Relations

ISSN: 0142-5455

Article publication date: 9 February 2015




The purpose of this paper is to investigate whether immigrants, when in the minority, are more exposed to bullying at work than natives, and whether immigrants’ cultural distance from the host culture increases the risk of being bullied.


The study was conducted as a cross-sectional survey. The participants were immigrant (N=183) and native (N=186) employees in a transport company in Finland.


Whereas immigrants on average were more likely than natives to label themselves as being bullied, the culturally least distant group of immigrants did not differ in this regard from natives. Compared to natives, the risk of being bullied was nearly three times higher in the intermediate distance group of immigrants and nearly eight times higher in the culturally most distant group. The primary type of negative act immigrants were subjected to was social exclusion.

Research limitations/implications

It would be advisable for future research investigating immigrants’ exposure to bullying to use quasi-objective measures along with a self-labelling measure, and to apply qualitative methods.

Practical implications

The heightened risk of culturally distant immigrants to being exposed to bullying might be reduced by improving employees’ cross-cultural communication skills and by promoting an atmosphere of acceptance of cultural diversity.


The study is an addition to the still scarce literature on immigrants’ exposure to workplace bullying, and takes into particular account immigrants’ cultural distance from their host culture.



The study was supported by grants from the Finnish Work Environment Fund (Grant Nos. 104,376 and 111,161).


Bergbom, B., Vartia-Vaananen, M. and Kinnunen, U. (2015), "Immigrants and natives at work: exposure to workplace bullying", Employee Relations, Vol. 37 No. 2, pp. 158-175.



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