Harassment Takes Major Toll on Victims And the Overall Workplace, Study Reveals

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By Genevieve Douglas

Dec. 19 — Workplace harassment can be directly tied to a variety of physical and psychological problems suffered by its victims, including stress, loss of sleep, depression and anxiety, according to a new study from Ball State University.

“Workplace Harassment and Morbidity Among U.S. Adults” also found that the humiliation and ridicule inflicted by workplace harassment cause victims to have low self-esteem, concentration difficulties, anger, lower life satisfaction, reduced productivity and increased absenteeism.

“Harassment or bullying suffered by American employees is severe and extremely costly for employers across the country,” Jagdish Khubchandani, a community health education professor at Ball State and the study’s lead author, told Bloomberg BNA Dec. 18. “The first thing that we have to do, and employers have to do, is admit that there is a problem,” he said.

The report is based on an analysis of 17,524 people who participated in the 2010 National Health Interview Survey and was recently published by the Journal of Community Health.

Khubchandani analyzed the physical toll pervasive harassment in the workplace takes on employees.

While men and women may present different illnesses due to the stress, or implement different coping mechanisms, the results of harassment have the potential to be life-threatening, Khubchandani said.

Profession Affects Likelihood of Harassment

The study found that over a 12-month period, about 8 percent of all respondents said they were threatened, harassed or bullied in the workplace. It also found:

• females were 47 percent more likely to be bullied or harassed than males;

• victims of harassment were more likely to be obese and smoke;

• female victims reported higher rates of distress, smoking, and pain disorders like migraines and neck pain; and

• male victims were more likely to miss more than two weeks of work and suffer from asthma, ulcers, hypertension and worsening of general health.


Khubchandani also found that the nature of the work can increase the likelihood of harassment. Individuals reporting higher rates of harassment included hourly workers, state and local government employees, multiple jobholders, night shift employees and those working irregular schedules, he said.

Employers Must Intervene 

According to Khubchandani, the biggest issue in addressing harassment is that employees are reticent to come forward, because when employees complain about harassment, they often are told to handle it themselves.

Employers should be proactive in rooting out harassment, Khubchandani recommended. One way to do this is to survey employees on an annual basis, thus allowing the human resources department to keep up-to-date on the general state of the workplace population, he said.

Employers also need to be on the lookout for indicators of harassment or bullying—such as employees chronically using personal or sick leave—to identify those who possibly are being targeted, Khubchandani advised.

To contact the reporter on this story: Genevieve Douglas in Washington at gdouglas@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Simon Nadel at snadel@bna.com