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10 March 2008
Workplace Bullying More Harmful Than Sexual Harassment

Workplace bullying, such as belittling comments, persistent criticism of work and withholding resources, appears to inflict more harm on employees than sexual harassment, said psychologists at the Seventh International Conference on Work, Stress and Health.

"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 study leader 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."

Hershcovis 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, 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. "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."

Related:
Confronting Workplace Bullying
Mean Girls Are Everywhere

Source: American Psychological Association


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