Employees who are bullied or exposed to violence at work may be more at risk of developing cardiovascular disease (CVD) than those who don't face these situations at work, a new European study suggests.
Researchers studied over 79,000 working men and women from Sweden and Denmark aged between 18 to 65 with no history of heart disease. Of these participants, 9% reported being bullied at work and 13% said they had been exposed to workplace violence in the past year. In total, 3,229 cases of the disease were recorded in a follow-up period of 12 years, with 765 recorded in just the first four years.
The research also found that social workers (more than 29% of participants), healthcare professionals (more than 25%), and teaching professionals (more than 16%) had the highest exposure to workplace violence. In these cases, 91% of the perpetrators were from outside the organisation and while only 9% were from the inside (colleagues, supervisors or subordinates).
On the contrary, the results differed for workplace bullying:
- 79% of bullies were colleagues, supervisors or subordinates
- 21% of bullies were clients
Data also revealed deeper links:
The link between workplace bullying and heart disease
- Over a mean follow-up of 3.8 years, 760 incidences of CVD were recorded, which included 484 cases of coronary heart disease (CHD), 301 cases of cerebrovascular disease (CD) and 25 cases where participants had both CHD and CD.
- People who were bullied were 59% more likely to develop heart disease or related diseases
The link between workplace violence and heart disease
- Over a mean of 12.4 years, 226 incidences of CVD were recorded, including 1971 cases of CHD and 1439 cases of CD. A total of 184 participants had both CHD and CD as their main diagnosis during the follow-up.
- Employees exposed to workplace violence were 25% more likely to develop heart disease or related diseases.
The study also cited difficult work conditions, which included job strain and excessive hours, as frequently being linked to a higher risk of CVD. However, research to date has yet to provide a clear picture of what role might be played by exposure to bullying and violence.
As quoted by Thomson Reuters, lead study author Tianwei Xu from University of Copenhagen in Denmark, said: "If we can eliminate workplace bullying and workplace violence, the impact on cardiovascular disease prevention would be similar to if we prevent diabetes and risky alcohol drinking."