In a climate characterized by continuous social, political and technological evolutions, working conditions are one of the topics of greatest concern. Job quality is also central to the concept of decent work introduced by the International Labour Organization (ILO). This term refers to the right of the worker to have working conditions that ensure health, safety and dignity [1
]. Job opportunities and decent working conditions are also included in the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Objective 8.8 of the Agenda underlines the need to ’protect labour rights and promote safe and secure working environments for all workers’ (e.g., absence of physical, mental, or emotional abuse). As outlined by the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions (Eurofound) one of the most important psychosocial risks at work is the problem of violence and harassment [2
]. At European level up to 12% of workers are subject to bullying, verbal abuse, humiliation and sexual harassment [3
]. Despite numerous improvements, the emergence of workplace violence is yet to be eradicated. Furthermore, the negative consequences of violence concern both the health of the individuals and the economy of the companies and states [4
]. To promote decent work, it is therefore necessary to create a safe work environment. Endeavours should be directed toward the analysis of available data, the development of possible interventions and training programs for managers and supervisors, bearing in mind that the key lies in correct information [8
The dominant line of research regarding the antecedents of violence concerns the role of the environmental conditions. The work environment hypothesis traces two macro-categories of possible predictors, namely job design (e.g., high workload, lack of skill utilization) and the social environment (e.g., lack of social support). [9
]. Starting from the concepts proposed by the work environment hypothesis several bullying models have been developed. However, these models appear to be too complex or generic, they are difficult to test empirically and often do not provide an adequate list of possible antecedents [12
The job demand-control-(support) model (JDCS) [14
] is configured as an easily testable model focused on the work environment [16
]. According to this model, the worst situation for the workers’ well-being is characterized by high job demands, low job control and low social support. The JDCS model has been one of the main stress models since the 1980s and it is supported by numerous empirical evidence [17
]. It has been used in many fields and to study a wide range of strain reactions, mostly indicators of well-being. [19
]. Nevertheless, what seems to be missing in the literature are studies of social behavioural outcomes that signal a response to stress, like for example, workplace bullying [20
]. Interestingly, the components of the JDCS model could be superimposable to the antecedents of workplace bullying described by the work environment hypothesis [21
]. This would be also in line with the statement of Salin and Hoel [22
Based on the work environment hypothesis this study aims to analyse the relationship between the components of JDCS conceptualized as stress and the consequences on the health of the workers, using violence in the workplace as a mediating variable in a sample of blue-collars. According to the literature, blue collar workers run a higher risk of experience episodes of violence in the workplace [24
]. In fact, among blue-collars the prevalence of bullying victims appears higher [25
]. Compared to white collars, this occupational group has less restrictive social rules, a lower level of social interactions, less autonomy and less recognition [26
Supported by previous scholarship, we used the JDCS model for two reasons. This model provides an easily testable theoretical framework and a list of antecedents consistent with the environmental hypothesis of violence [16
] Furthermore, this model allows to study a type of social strain such as violence, in response to high pressure work environments. According to the literature, what seems to be missing in the study of strain reactions is the analysis of social-behavioural outcomes (e.g., violence) [20
1.1. Work Environment Hypothesis
Several theoretical models have been proposed for the analysis of the antecedents of workplace bullying. These studies take into consideration the different characteristics that can be traced to two main lines of separate research: the individual-disposition hypothesis and the work environment hypothesis [9
]. A limitation common to both strands of research refers to the fact that it is difficult to admit being a perpetrator of bullying, as a result, information is almost always based on victims’ reports [12
The individual disposition hypothesis states that personality traits or the combination of certain characteristics may increase the risk of performing harassment or to be exposed to mobbing episodes [27
]. Despite the various efforts in identifying key features that act as predictors, scholars have failed to recognize any general profile, which is why this hypothesis receives less support [30
Factors that have shown greater predictive power are related to the environment conditions and fall into what is called the work environment hypothesis. This hypothesis received considerable support from empirical evidence and constitutes the main line of research [9
]. The work environment hypothesis dates back to the work of Leymann [32
] who identified a poor work environment and inadequate leadership practices as determinants of bullying. Numerous studies have shown that the risk of workplace violence is correlated with high workload, role conflict and role ambiguity, cognitive demands, emotional demands, physical demands, time pressure, low autonomy, lack of skill utilization, poor leadership and lack of social support [9
]. Violence in the workplace has also been associated with physical characteristics of the environment such as crowdedness, high temperatures and noisy workplaces [36
In the literature there are therefore numerous evidences about the possible environmental antecedents of workplace violence at the individual, group and organizational level and stressful environments are empirically recognized as a possible source of conflict [37
1.2. The Job Demand-Control-(Support) Model
The JDC model developed by Karasek [14
] reflects an attempt to unify two trends of research. One dedicated to the study of possible stressors within the work environment and one focused on what is defined as ‘’decision latitude’’ (i.e., the decision-making freedom available to the worker). This model, also known as the job strain model, postulates that psychological strain is not the result of a single environmental variable, but it is the consequence of the demands of a work situation and the freedom that a worker has in coping with these demands.
Job demands, which are identified as stressors, refer to the task requirements or workload and have been operationalized in terms of time pressure and role conflict. Job control, also called decision latitude, refers to the extent to which an individual can have control over work activities. This construct is subdivided into skill discretion (i.e., the possibility of using specific skills) and decision authority (i.e., the autonomy of an individual in decisions regarding the task, for example timing). The strain hypothesis of the JDC states that the situation in which the worker experiences the greatest stress and the lowest well-being is characterized by high job demands and low job control. The buffer hypothesis of the model asserts that control at work can moderate the negative effects of high job demands on well-being. The model also provides an increase in learning parallel to the reduction of stress, thanks to the decision latitude possessed with respect to the task [14
]. Johnson [15
] added a component concerning social support (supervisor and colleagues) creating the job-demand-control-support model (JDCS). Indeed, control is not the only resource available to mitigate the effects of workload. In occupational stress research, many studies testify the importance and beneficial contribution of social support in stress and anxiety reduction [39
]. Within the JDCS model the strain hypothesis is called iso-strain and states that the worst consequences are observed in a situation characterized by high demands, low control and low social support. The buffer hypothesis states that social support moderates the negative effects of high strain (high job demands and low job control) [15
The JDC and the JDCS models have often been used as a frame of reference for research in various sectors, especially those particularly at risk of stress due to the nature of the job: healthcare, tourism, teaching, safety, etc. [41
]. The JDCS model is also a useful framework for sectors that include a large portion of manual labour (blue-collar workers) whose work appears to be at high risk of psychophysical stress [46
]. Furthermore, these models proved to be very useful for the study of several variables such as job dissatisfaction, burnout, turnover, physical and psychological problems related to work (e.g., cardiovascular problems, sleep problems, depression and anxiety), work–family conflict and bullying at work [13
From this perspective, bullying is seen as a symptom of a high-strain environment [20
]. For the targets of violence, the process that would link high levels of stress to workplace bullying could concern dysfunctional coping mechanisms and the reduction of available resources. According to the social interactionist theory, work-related stressors (e.g., those identified by the JDCS model) lead to high stress levels, which in turn would lead the individual to become estranged from the stressful situation, violating social norms and expectations (e.g., decreasing work effort or behaving in an avoiding way). These reactions could lead other individuals to adopt hostile behaviours toward the stressed colleague [20
]. The stressful situation could also act on the resources of the worker, no longer able to resist and react and therefore even more susceptible to becoming a victim [36
]. Likewise, Lutgen-Sandvik et al. [53
] described the environments that favour violence as a ‘boiler room’ in which there is excessive pressure, while Zapf [54
] found that according to bullying targets, high stress is the fourth leading cause of violence.
In line with this and following the work environment hypothesis, the JDCS model could be a useful framework for the analysis of workplace violence [13
]. This is also suggested by the leading experts in the workplace bullying field [55
]. Nonetheless, there are still few studies on the issue of violence using the JDCS model as a theoretical frame of reference.
For example, Notelaers et al. [21
] found that employees in situations of ‘very high job demands’ were two times more likely to be bullied in comparison with the total probability. Employees in ‘very low job control’ situations were almost four-times more likely to be bullied. In a recent study, Goodboy et al. [56
] analysed bullying using the JDCS model and the results showed that job demands, job control and social support were useful predictors for bullying reports. The buffer hypothesis was also confirmed since the analyses showed a three-way interaction. Tuckey et al. [23
] found that higher levels of workplace bullying (assessed by both targets and observers) were associated with higher levels of job demands along with low job control and low social support. Baillien et al. [16
] used a two-wave design with a 6-month time lag to test the JDC assumptions focusing on the targets and perpetrators. The results showed different patterns: workload and control were independently associated with being a victim of bullying while for perpetrators the dimension of workload and control had effects only if they interacted. Eventually, in another study Baillien et al. [13
] tested the strain hypothesis of the JDC in matched samples of Spanish and Belgian blue-collar workers. The interaction between the components has predicted the level of victimization showing a stronger association between increased workload and bullying in the low-control condition.
Available data indicate that blue-collars run a higher risk of experiencing episodes of violence. This occupational group has lower levels of autonomy and social support [24
]. These factors have been identified as antecedents of bullying by the work environment hypothesis [9
]. The JDCS model allows to analyse the lack of autonomy and the lack of social support as antecedents of violence seen as a social strain [16
]. As suggested by the literature, violence can be the result of high-pressure environments (i.e., stressful) and it has devastating effects on the health of individuals. [21
] Thus, instead of linking job characteristics directly to workers’ health, a connection is sought between working conditions and behaviour patterns (bullying) that can, in turn, influence health [23
]. Despite the work environment hypothesis being the dominant line of research, many of the studies concerning workplace bullying remain atheoretical. Nevertheless, workplace bullying is an underrated phenomenon especially in a high-risk category such as blue-collar workers. Moreover, antecedents of workplace bullying, and its health consequences are not totally explained, because of the lack of theoretical framework and data analysis that could confirm theoretical models. Considering these aspects, there is a need to analyse the relationships among predicted antecedents such as work-related stress and organizational factors, and the health outcomes of such workers who experienced work-related stress and bullying reactions.
1.3. Aims and Hypotheses
The main objective of the present study is to investigate the links between work-related stress, workplace bullying and health outcomes. Based on the work environment hypothesis and the pre-existing literature this study has a three-fold purpose. First, we aim to investigate the environmental antecedents of workplace bullying through an empirically testable model such as the JDCS.
Second, we use the JDCS model as a theoretical framework considering violence as the consequence of ‘high-strain’ jobs.
Third, using a sample formed exclusively of blue-collars, we aim to add information about this phenomenon in a high-risk occupational group.
A cross-sectional study design was performed to test the following hypotheses:
High job demands, low social support and low job control will significantly predict the level of health.
High job demands, low job control and low social support will significantly predict reports of workplace bullying, which in turn will predict the level of health.
We therefore hypothesize a partial mediation model in which stress affects health directly and indirectly by the mediation of workplace bullying.