Men and Women Have Different Response to Workplace Bullying

New European research suggests bullying in the workplace results in women taking extended sick leave while men often leave the job entirely.

Specifically, an interdisciplinary research team from Aarhus BSS — Aarhus University in the Netherlands and the University of Copenhagen, discovered workplace bullying doubles women’s sickness absence, leads to an increased use of antidepressants, and affects women’s health negatively for an extended period.

On the other hand, men are twice as likely to leave the labor market for a period of time after they have been subjected to bullying.

In the study, researchers queried 3,182 people in both public and private organizations. Seven percent of respondents reported they are being subjected to bullying. Of these, 43 percent are men.

“The million-dollar question is why men primarily react by leaving the workplace, while women react to bullying by taking prolonged sick leaves. If anything, this illustrates that men and women handle bullying differently,” said Assistant Professor Tine Mundbjerg Eriksen from the Department of Economics and Business Economics at Aarhus BSS.

Together with her colleagues from the University of Copenhagen, Eriksen has recently published her research in the journal Labor Economics. She notes that it was a surprise to learn that bullying does not seem to increase men’s absence due to illness.

“In fact, it seems that men who are bullied are more likely than women to go to work even though they’re actually sick. At the same time, it appears that bullying affects men’s salary level negatively, which indicates that the bullying hampers their opportunities for pay increases and promotions.

“One way of bullying is that your colleagues or your boss impede your ability to do your job properly, make changes to your work or hand the fun and important tasks to others.”

When it comes to the type and frequency of bullying, the research shows that men are just as exposed to work or personal-related bullying as women, but are actually slightly more exposed to physical intimidation than women.

Remarkably, bullying is often worse than violence or sexual harassment. Previous studies have shown that bullying causes the same symptoms as post-traumatic stress disorder and that bullying causes more long-term sickness than e.g. violence, threats, and sexual harassment.

In fact, a 2003 study by Lederne, a resource organization for management, determined that bullying costs approximately two million work days a year.

Nevertheless, Eriksen believes a large part of the bullying in Danish workplaces will probably never come to light — a realization that underlines the gravity of the problem and the need for further research.

“There are still many things we don’t know exactly, for example if the bullying follows the person or the workplace or both. But it’s an expensive problem for society and for the individual, so we’d like to dig deeper,” she said.

About the research:

  • The research is based on a study from 2006, which has been compared with data on sickness absence from the years 2007-2011. The results are consistent with other international studies on the subject.
  • All of the results in the new study remain the same, even when the researchers account for factors such as the person’s previous sickness absence, attachment to the labor market, personality, the workplace’s characteristics, and so on.

Source: Aarhus University