The Hidden Harm of Workplace Bullying

It affects body mass index, alcohol consumption, smoking, even mental disorders

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Employees who get bullied at the workplace are more prone to cardiovascular diseases (CVD) than individuals who don’t deal with these challenges in the office.

A study published in the European Heart Journal reveals that workplace bullying and workplace violence increase risk factors for heart diseases. A group of researchers examined survey data from more than 80,000 working men and women, aged between 19 and 65 years, who didn’t have a history of heart disease. Overall about nine per cent of them reported being bullied and 13 per cent had been exposed to violence on the job.

According to the study, after a follow-up period of more than 12 years, 3,229 cases of heart diseases and 765 cases of first four years emerged. “After adjustment for age, sex, country of birth, marital status, and educational level, being bullied at work vs. not was associated with a hazard ratio (HR) of 1.59 [95 per cent confidence interval (CI) 1.28–1.98] for CVD. The population attributable risk was 5.0 per cent for workplace bullying and 3.1 per cent for workplace violence,” said researchers. 

“The excess risk remained similar in analyses with different follow-up lengths, cardiovascular risk stratifications, and after additional adjustments. Dose-response relations were observed for both workplace bullying and violence. There was only negligible heterogeneity in study-specific estimates,” they added.

About workplace violence, the survey conducted on 79,000 workers, said prevalence ranged from 7 per cent to 17 per cent across the cohorts within the past 12 months. The study found that social workers (prevalence >46 per cent), personal and protective service workers (>29 per cent), healthcare professionals (>25 per cent), and teaching professionals (>16 per cent) had the highest exposure to workplace violence. The perpetrators of workplace violence (in DWECS) mainly originated from outside the organization (91 per cent: clients) and less often from inside (9 per cent: colleagues, supervisors, or subordinates).

How to Eliminate 

The workplace stress is not just likely to develop heart diseases but it could also affect overall health of employees. Among other heart diseases, severe stress may also contribute to high blood pressure, which, in turn, increases the risk of heart disease.

Hectic schedule amid difficult work conditions, including job strain and excessive hours, have long been linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, but research to date hasn't offered a clear picture of what role might be played by exposure to bullying and violence, the researchers write in the European Heart Journal.

One of the lead authors of study from the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, Tiawei Xu, recommended ways to eliminate the increasing stress. “If we can eliminate workplace bullying and workplace violence, the impact on cardiovascular disease prevention would be similar to if we prevent diabetes and risky alcohol drinking,” the expert said.

Still, stressors like bullying and violence might contribute to mood disorders like anxiety or depression or fuel unhealthy behaviors like smoking or eating and drinking too much, the study notes.

Bullying, or psychologically aggressive behavior, affected from 8 percent to 13 percent of workers across three different surveys examined in the study.