In a study published in the April issue of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, National Taiwan University researchers reported that public sector employees in Taiwan had higher risks for workplace violence and higher level of client-related burnout than private sector employees.
Long working hours, heavy workloads and rising workplace violence have been public concerns in Taiwan. However, psychosocial work hazards and associated health risks among public sector employees have rarely been studied, either in Taiwan or internationally. The lead author of the study, Ms. Hsi-Chen Liu – a doctoral student of the Institute of Health Policy and Management of the National Taiwan University College of Public Health – and her supervisor professor Dr. Yawen Cheng utilized data from a nationwide survey, which was conducted by the Institute of Labor, Occupation Safety and Health of the Taiwan Ministry of Labor, and compared the work conditions and health status between public and private sector employees in Taiwan.
Ms. Liu and Dr. Cheng reported that although public sector employees generally enjoyed better employment security and more regulated work conditions as compared with their private sector counterparts, they were more likely to encounter workplace violence in all forms examined, ranging from physical, verbal and psychological violence, and they had higher level of client-related burnout. The researchers also reported that public sector employees who had higher psychosocial job demands, lower workplace justice and experience of workplace violence were more likely to have poor health and higher burnout.
Dr. Cheng pointed out that many front-line public service workers often worked under heavy workloads but with insufficient resources. In addition, fiscal constraints and manpower reduction along with rising expectation from the pubic with regard to the functions of government and the quality of public services may also aggravate workers’ overload, thus leading to high burnout, low morale and early retirement of public sector employees. “Our data couldn’t tell us the exact reasons why public sector employees had higher levels of workplace violence and client-related burnout, but the results pointed out issues that deserve attention”, said Dr. Cheng in an interview. She added, “workplace bullying from supervisors and from the public could be prevalent in public sectors — the former may come from the hierarchical nature of governmental work and the latter may come from the confrontational nature of social interactions embedded in law enforcement activities, as well as the composition of more trouble-laden recipients.”
Morale and health conditions of workers in the public sector are important not just for workers’ own sake but also for the functions of government. The authors emphasized that while social awareness about workplace violence and client-related burnout among public sector workers should be raised, more research is needed to explore occupation- and context-specific psychosocial work conditions and their casual mechanisms leading to workers’ health risks.