Research links workplace bullying with ill-health

A new study by the University of Sheffield has uncovered new evidence of a strong link between workplace bullying and the subsequent psychological ill-health of employees.

The study, which was funded by the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH), found that bullying from organisational insiders, for example colleagues, subordinates and superiors, significantly influenced levels of stress reported seven months later.

The study, which will be presented for the first time at the Institute of Work Psychology´s Conference in Sheffield on 30 June 2010, found that 39% of employees in the study reported frequent (either weekly or daily) bullying from colleagues, subordinates or superiors in the previous six months.

Of the different types of unacceptable behaviour the researchers examined, it was bullying from people inside the organisation that had the most salient health effects for employees.

The study found that higher levels of personal optimism and self-esteem and lower workloads helped to protect employees from the negative health consequences of bullying. Enhancing personal optimism and self-esteem in work-based training programmes may therefore limit the negative impact of bullying at work. However, tackling the perpetrators of bullying with visible organisational policies and procedures still remains paramount.

The research team collaborated with nine organisations over a year during 2008 and 2009. A total of 3,652 employees responded in the first part of the study and a further 2,029 employees in the second part.

Christine Sprigg, Lecturer in Occupational Psychology at the University´s Institute of Work Psychology, who led the study, said: "The evidence of the relationship between employee ill-health and workplace bullying is clearly shown by our data, but more importantly we find that there might be workplace interventions, for example working to boost employee self-esteem, that can help to lessen the impact of other people´s bad behaviour at work. We look forward to investigating this further."

Dr Karen Niven, a member of the research team from the Department of Psychology, said: "We are enormously grateful to all those employees and organisations who took part in the study. We appreciate that bullying at work is a very sensitive issue but we really cannot learn more about it unless we get organisations to participate in this type of research."

Dr Luise Vassie, Head of Research and Technical Services at IOSH, said: "We´re pleased that this research not only adds to the existing body of knowledge on this subject, but also provides us with ideas on how the detrimental impact of bullying on worker health can be reduced."

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