Harassment: Health Hazard?

As if there wasn’t already enough anecdotal evidence of harassment’s ill effects, researchers at Ball State University have found that exposure to such treatment is potentially physically unhealthy for victims.

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The Ball State studyWorkplace Harassment and Morbidity Among US Adults, found that harassment victims suffer from a variety of physical and psychological issues, such as higher rates of stress, loss of sleep, depression and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Harassment victims are more likely to be female, obese, multiracial and those divorced or separated, according to the report, which included an analysis of 17,524 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 point to the downside of American worker harassment, and how their overall health is negatively affected.

“Harassment or bullying suffered by American employees is severe and extremely costly for employers across the country,” Khubchandani said in a release.  “Harassment harms victims, witnesses and organizations.”

Khubchandani, co-author of the study with James Price, a faculty member at the University of Toledo, added that the humiliation and ridicule of workplace harassment also can cause victims to suffer from low self-esteem, concentration difficulties, anger, lower life satisfaction, reduced productivity, and increased absenteeism. Clearly, harassment is about more than a single outcome and has a direct impact on employee well-being.

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Over a 12-month period, the study found:

  • 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 such as migraine headaches 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. Also, male victims were more likely to have ever been diagnosed with hypertension and angina pectoris.

Despite the recent explosion of media exposure and accompanying outpouring of support for victims of workplace bullying and harassment, the study found that American employers are far from eradicating the problem, Khubchandani explained.

“Workplace harassment could be significantly reduced by American employers if they were willing to accept the prevalence of the problem and acknowledge the high costs for employees and employers,” he said, adding that 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,” he said, concluding that to protect all employees – not just those at risk – there must be employer-wide periodic education and policy reinforcement.

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Tom Starner
Tom Starner is a freelance writer based in Philadelphia who has been covering the human resource space and all of its component processes for over two decades. He can be reached at [email protected].