Getting Bullied at Work Harms Your Heart
Not everyone is lucky enough to love their job. For some, the work just isn’t stimulating or interesting. In other cases, it may be that the chosen career or company you’re at isn’t a particularly good fit. Or maybe the job itself is fine, but the boss or co-workers are the problem. More specifically, perhaps you are unhappy because they are bullying you. If so, it might be time to update your resume and move on. According to new research, that type of situation can be quite detrimental to your physical health.
The study, which took place at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, found that individuals who are victims of workplace bullying, violence, or threats of violence may be at a higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease and having a stroke.1 These results are based on an investigation that followed 79,201 men and women living and working in Denmark and Sweden. The subjects ranged in age from 18 to 65, and none had a diagnosis of heart disease prior to the start of the research.
After the participants answered questions about their workplace environment and how they were treated, the data showed that nine percent felt they were experiencing bullying, and 13 percent reported suffering from violence or the threat of violence at work during the prior year. (Understand, that’s almost a quarter of everyone surveyed.) The investigators then analyzed this information against the volunteers’ medical records in national databases. They discovered that individuals who were bullied on the job had a whopping 59 percent higher risk of developing heart disease than their peers who had not been bullied.
Interestingly, those who had experienced violence or the threat of violence, but not bullying, faced a lesser risk, suggesting that bullying may do more extensive damage both mentally and physically over time. Among those in violent workplace situations, the risk of heart disease increased by 25 percent compared to those who had not encountered any violence at work. All these figures held up after the researchers controlled for a number of potentially influential factors.
What’s more, when the problem was more frequent, it often made health matters worse. For example, among people who experienced workplace bullying nearly every day over the course of the previous year, the risk of heart disease skyrocketed by 120 percent versus those who had not been bullied. And among the participants subjected to violence or threats of violence, those who dealt with it nearly daily were found to have a 36 percent greater risk of stroke compared to people who felt safer on the job.
While we can’t say for sure that these difficult situations at work caused the cardiovascular disease to develop, the findings provide solid evidence of an association that could, at the very least, mean it is an important contributing factor. This makes quite a bit of sense since we know that chronic stress, and workplace stress in particular, can have a profound negative effect on our health, including heart-related issues. A 2011 study at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts showed that women who work at stressful jobs are at higher risk of suffering from a heart attack, stroke, or other forms of cardiovascular disease.
Let’s face it, many of us spend far more time at work than we do anywhere else. If you have a bad bullying situation at your workplace and you’re putting in 35, 40, maybe even 50 hours a week there, that adds up to a lot of stress very quickly. But what can you do if this is your daily reality at work? Try to take action through the proper channels within your company, speaking to your boss or a human resources manager about the situation. And exercise the same option if you face violence at work. But if that doesn’t get things resolved, you may be better off sending your resume to every possible employment opportunity you can find, while also talking to your lawyer. After all, you can always get another job, but you can’t always fix a serious health issue.
- 1. Xu, Tianwei; et al. "Workplace bullying and workplace violence as risk factors for cardiovascular disease: a multi-cohort study." European Heart Journal. 19 November 2018. Accessed 25 November 2018. https://academic.oup.com/eurheartj/advance-article/doi/10.1093/eurheartj/ehy683/5180493?searchresult=1.