Workplace bullying is on the rise in Europe, new studies claim.
Marie-France Hirigoyen, a French author who wrote a book on bullying and coined the term 'moral harassment', claimed that it now affects about 9 per cent of the French workforce.
The practice is said to be a means of forcing workers to quit in many European countries, as legislation makes it difficult to fire employees.
Helge Hoel, one of Europe's leading experts on bullying in the workplace, recently conducted a study in Portugal into 'inactive occupation', where workers are ignored in the hope that they will leave. He said that reported incidents were only "the tip of the iceberg".
Loic Scoarnec, who spent 32 years working at a bank in Paris, became a target of this practice.
"Nobody wanted to speak to me or work with me," he said. "I was not included in meetings. I was completely isolated."
He described it as a "well-organised conspiracy" to force him to leave, but he stayed, as getting another job at the age of 54 would have been very difficult.
Last year, Scoarnec's union and his employer reached an agreement, and he left.
The experience led him to found Harclement Moral Stop (Stop Moral Harassment) - an association that offers counselling to bullied staff. He said the organisation has received 17,000 phone calls and 6,000 e-mails so far from bullied employees.
French lawyer Philippe Ravisy acknowledged that the country's labour law makes it very difficult to fire people, and, although bullying in the workplace has been banned since 2002, some companies still try to force people out.
"The new French Government tried to change the law and make it easier to fire people, but they were opposed by the unions," he said.
However, Daniel Richter, an official with the French CFDT union, said that bullying as a means of forcing workers to leave is only part of the picture.
"The problem has always existed, but people are more aware of it today," he said. "There are demands for increased production, more results, and improved quality," he added. "Management may try to pressure and use harassment to achieve these goals."
John Hurley, an information officer with the European Foun-dation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions, said it is difficult to pinpoint which countries have the worst problem, as different statistical sources often vary in their descriptions of the extent of the bullying taking place.