I recently came across a study published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research about the link between workplace bullying and mental health. I found the results of the study interesting, because they demonstrate how workplace bullying might affect an employee physiologically, in a way that cannot be measured just by observation.
The National Research Centre for the Working Environment and the University of Copenhagen conducted the study, titled "Frequency of Bullying at Work, Physiological Response, and Mental Health." Researchers examined the relationship between bullying at work and the level of study participants' cortisol secretions to determine if the amounts varied among those who were bullied and those who were not. The cortisol secretions were measured in each participant's saliva.
The study focused on 1944 employees, some of whom were occasionally bullied, some of whom were frequently bullied, and some of whom were not bullied at all. Of 55 workplaces studied, 78 percent reported workplace bullying, while 21 percent reported frequent bullying.
According to the study findings, 1.1 percent of individuals surveyed were frequently bullied, and 7.2 percent were occasionally bullied. Those who reported frequent bullying had 24.8 percent lower cortisol concentration compared to those who were not bullied. They also reported lower levels of mental health. The study also revealed that these findings did not deviate based on age, gender, or duration of bullying.
The survey concluded that those who were victims of frequent workplace bullying had lower cortisol concentration, which could suggest an altered physiological status and could lead to reduced mental health, though the connection still needs to be evaluated through future studies. Those who were victims of occasional bullying did not demonstrate the same low levels of cortisol, though they did report poorer mental health.
In the CPI Prepare Training® program, we often refer to the Workplace Violence Continuum, a series of behaviors that can begin with something as small as simple discourtesy, and range all the way to physical aggression. Intimidation and harassment, two behaviors associated with workplace bullying, appear early in the continuum, which demonstrates how workplace bullying can eventually lead to more serious and violent behavior if not stopped early. The earlier we intervene in potentially dangerous behaviors, the safer everyone will be in the long term.
The findings of this study suggest that the effects of workplace bullying go beyond workplace safety and employee performance levels. They also affect an employee's physical and mental state, which only further emphasizes the need for safe work environments for everyone. These results, coupled with the fact that workplaces are experiencing increasing rates of violence, demonstrate why workplace violence prevention training is necessary.
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