Bullying at work increases sick leave among employees

September 18, 2000

Workplace bullying and sickness absence in hospital staff 2000; 57: 656-60

Bullying at work increases the amount of sick leave employees take, shows research in Occupational and Environmental Medicine. And it is not just those who are the victims of bullying who take more time off, but also colleagues who work alongside them, the research indicates.

The sick leave patterns and rates of bullying among hospital staff were analysed in one teaching hospital, one large non-teaching hospital, and in eight regional hospitals in Finland. Almost 700 male and 5000 female employees, whose average age was 43, took part in the study. Half the staff were nurses; 7 per cent were doctors, and the remainder worked in administration and maintenance. All of them were asked by confidential questionnaire if they were currently being bullied at work..

One in 20 said that that they were being bullied. Thirty five of the 302 staff who reported bullying were men. Although they did not differ in any respect from their colleagues, victims of bullying tended to weigh more and to suffere more chronic illness, such as diabetes and asthma. Rates of sick leave were up to 50 per cent higher among victims of bullying. But absentee rates were also 9 per cent higher among those who worked in units where bullying took place.

The cost of bullying in the hospitals assessed amounted to £125,000. But this excludes the costs of demotivation and its effects on patient care or the increased costs of recruitment when victims feel they have to leave, say the authors.

Problems in social relationships are thought to impair an individual's immune response. And bullying involves elements of social conflict, isolation, and poor social support, all of which have been linked to increased rates of sickness and even death, say the authors. Bullying may create a vicious cycle in health, say the authors, by both causing ill health and consequently increasing susceptibility to bullying.

Dr Mika Kivimäki, Department of Psychology, University of Helsinki, Finland. mika.kivimaki@occuphealth.fi

BMJ Specialty Journals

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