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Workplace Harassment in the United States Is Associated with Health Risk Factors for Victims

Nov. 30, 2017
With recent sexual harassment and sexual assault accusations involving high-profile people like Harvey Weinstein and Matt Lauer and Bill O’Reilly, it’s important to note that workplace harassment of all kinds creates long-term physical and psychological problems for the victims.

Workplace harassment directly is tied to a variety of physical and psychological problems suffered by victims, including higher rates of stress, loss of sleep, depression and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, according to a study from Ball State University.

“Workplace Harassment and Morbidity Among US Adults” also found that victims were more likely to be female, obese, multiracial and those divorced or separated. The report is based on an analysis of 17,500 people who participated in the 2010 National Health Interview.

Jagdish Khubchandani, a community health education professor at Ball State and the study’s lead author, said the results clearly shows that the American workers are being exposed to harassment and are their health is suffering.

“Harassment or bullying suffered by American employees is severe and extremely costly for employers across the country,” he said.  “Harassment harms victims, witnesses and organizations where such interactions occur.”

The humiliation and ridicule of workplace harassment causes victims to have low self-esteem, concentration difficulties, anger, lower life satisfaction, reduced productivity and increased absenteeism, said Khubchandani, who coauthored the study with James Price, a faculty member at the University of Toledo.

The study found that over 12-month period:

  • About eight percent of respondents said they were threatened, harassed or bullied in the workplace.
  • Females were more likely to be harassed than males.
  • Individuals reporting higher rates of harassment included hourly workers, state and local government employees, multiple jobholders, night shift employees and those working non-regular schedules. 
  • Victims of harassment were more likely to obese and smoke.
  • Female victims reported higher rates of psychosocial distress, smoking and pain disorders like migraine and neck pain.
  • Male victims were more likely to miss more than two weeks of work and suffer from asthma, ulcers and worsening of general health in the past year. In addition, male victims were more likely to have ever been diagnosed with hypertension and angina pectoris.

Despite heightened awareness of the problem and an outpouring of support for victims of workplace bullying in the last decade, the study shows that American companies have a long way to go to eradicate such acts, Khubchandani said.

“Workplace harassment could be significantly reduced by American organizations if they were willing to accept the prevalence of the problem and acknowledge the high costs for employees and employers,” he said. “Interventions to address workplace harassment should be comprehensive. Practices and policies should protect employees at risk and there should be protocols to assist employees who are victimized.”

To protect all employees – not just those at risk – Khubchandani said there should there should be periodic education and reinforcement of policies across the organization.

About the Author

Sandy Smith

Sandy Smith is the former content director of EHS Today, and is currently the EHSQ content & community lead at Intelex Technologies Inc. She has written about occupational safety and health and environmental issues since 1990.

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