Bullying more harmful than sexual harassment on the job, say researchers

Workplace bullying, such as belittling comments, persistent criticism of work and withholding resources, appears to inflict more harm on employees than sexual harassment, say researchers who presented their findings at a conference today.

“As sexual harassment becomes less acceptable in society, organizations may be more attuned to helping victims, who may therefore find it easier to cope,” said lead author M. Sandy Hershcovis, PhD, of the University of Manitoba. “In contrast, non-violent forms of workplace aggression such as incivility and bullying are not illegal, leaving victims to fend for themselves.”

This finding was presented at the Seventh International Conference on Work, Stress and Health, co-sponsored by the American Psychological Association, the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health and the Society for Occupational Health Psychology.

Hershcovis and co-author Julian Barling, PhD, of Queen’s University in Ontario, Canada, reviewed 110 studies conducted over 21 years that compared the consequences of employees’ experience of sexual harassment and workplace aggression. Specifically, the authors looked at the effect on job, co-worker and supervisor satisfaction, workers’ stress, anger and anxiety levels as well as workers’ mental and physical health. Job turnover and emotional ties to the job were also compared.

The authors distinguished among different forms of workplace aggression. Incivility included rudeness and discourteous verbal and non-verbal behaviors. Bullying included persistently criticizing employees’ work; yelling; repeatedly reminding employees of mistakes; spreading gossip or lies; ignoring or excluding workers; and insulting employees’ habits, attitudes or private life. Interpersonal conflict included behaviors that involved hostility, verbal aggression and angry exchanges.

Both bullying and sexual harassment can create negative work environments and unhealthy consequences for employees, but the researchers found that workplace aggression has more severe consequences. Employees who experienced bullying, incivility or interpersonal conflict were more likely to quit their jobs, have lower well-being, be less satisfied with their jobs and have less satisfying relations with their bosses than employees who were sexually harassed, the researchers found.

Furthermore, bullied employees reported more job stress, less job commitment and higher levels of anger and anxiety. No differences were found between employees experiencing either type of mistreatment on how satisfied they were with their co-workers or with their work.

“Bullying is often more subtle, and may include behaviors that do not appear obvious to others,” said Hershcovis. “For instance, how does an employee report to their boss that they have been excluded from lunch? Or that they are being ignored by a coworker? The insidious nature of these behaviors makes them difficult to deal with and sanction.”

From a total of 128 samples that were used, 46 included subjects who experienced sexual harassment, 86 experienced workplace aggression and six experienced both. Sample sizes ranged from 1,491 to 53,470 people. Participants ranged from 18 to 65 years old. The work aggression samples included both men and women. The sexual harassment samples examined primarily women because, Hershcovis said, past research has shown that men interpret and respond differently to the behaviors that women perceive as sexual harassment.

Source: American Psychological Association

Explore further

When workplace relationships are good, both positive, negative humor by leaders can improve employees' job satisfaction

Citation: Bullying more harmful than sexual harassment on the job, say researchers (2008, March 8) retrieved 20 April 2019 from https://medicalxpress.com/news/2008-03-bullying-sexual-job.html
This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.

Feedback to editors

User comments

Mar 08, 2008
"Bullying included persistently criticizing employees'; yelling; repeatedly reminding employees of mistakes; spreading gossip or lies; ignoring or excluding workers; and insulting employees' habits, attitudes or private life."

I had a manager who did all of those things. The owner couldn't figure out why we started having such *incredibly* high turnover once that manager was hired. (The owner was pretty dense, and spent most of his time high on pot, so... yeah.) Suffice to say I quit that job:P.

There's only so much that any person can put up with from their coworkers, and that guy could put even the most mellow person over the top. He was very careful about how he did it though. He sneaked his bullying in sideways so that it was hard to notice unless you spent a lot of time around him. Most people just ended up feeling really low and depressed when they spent small amounts of time around him. It was an interesting tactic. I've never seen that before.

Mar 09, 2008
I had that problem with my managers when I used to work for Home Depot as a loader.

Mar 10, 2008
That is what sexual harassment is: bullying as a campaign targeting a specific gender. Sexual harassment is not just groping, etc. They do not say how they distinguish the two....

Bullying in any form should not be tolerated. I am glad someone is working at providing a definition of this problem.

Mar 12, 2008

Yong Li was a senior software engineer in Raytheon's Marlborough facility. As a result of her early year internal discrimination complaint, she was retaliatory harassed by her managers in 2004. The harassment caused her depressive, when she reported to human resource about her personal safety, Raytheon, through EAP counselor John Didio, imposed a mental evaluation without her consent, he did not ask why she felt unsafe, he directly asked %u201Cdo you want to kill someone%u201D with his finger pointing at her and showing scurrilous staring. Gripped with panic, she was traumatized and became long term disabled.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more