Worker Bullying Linked To More Sick Days

Feb. 16, 2001
Workers are more likely to take a sick leave if they are being bullied on the job, threatened with workplace reorganization or doing work that requires repetitive movements, according to a study.

Workers are more likely to take a sick leave if they are being bullied on the job, threatened with workplace reorganization or doing work that requires heavy lifting or repetitive movements, according to a study of postal workers in Sweden.

The investigators found that men and women tended to have different factors that increased their likelihood of calling in sick, but overall, women were slightly more likely to call in sick than men were.

For women, "the strongest association was for problems related to working in a forward bent position. Women reporting such problems had a more than doubled risk of being in the group with the highest (occurrence) of sickness compared with women who did not report these problems," wrote Dr. Margaretha Voss of the Institute of Environmental Medicine at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, and colleagues.

Likewise, 16 percent of the women surveyed reported bullying on the job and this doubled their likeliness of calling in sick.

Men on the other hand, were more likely to have sick days if they were experiencing anxiety associated with reorganization at their workplace.

"Reorganization may carry threats to the position and work experience with adverse effects on health and well-being," the authors noted.

Both men and women were more likely to call in sick if their job required heavy lifting or monotonous movement, and those who dragged themselves to work when they were truly ill ended up needing more time off later, the report indicated.

"In the long run, these employees may run the risk of having more serious problems or illness with longer periods of sick leave, and may have to make greater efforts to rehabilitate," Voss and colleagues reported in the March issue of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

The study included 1,219 women and 1,409 men who were working for the Sweden Post between 1992 and 1994.

The participants included administrators, mail handling staff, cashiers, rural postman, office personnel, office cleaning staff, computer personnel and technicians.

Overall, 30 percent of women and 34 percent of men took no sick days at all in the year the study was conducted.

"It cannot be ruled out that some of our findings could be caused by chance, because of the extensive number of variables analyzed," the authors noted.

by Virginia Sutcliffe

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