August 9th, 2012

WBI Survey: Workplace Bullying Health Impact

In the spring 2012, WBI posted a Instant Poll survey asking bullied targets to check health symptoms associated with their bullying experience. 516 respondents completed the survey. Here are the findings.

In 2003, the Workplace Bullying Institute conducted an online survey exploring many aspects of the phenomenon, of which one was impact on targets’ health. The self-selected sample of 1,000 individuals bullied at work (typically 98% of any sample visiting WBI are known to be bullied) completed a 33-item self-report symptoms checklist. Women were the majority of respondents (80%). In rank order of most to least frequent, respondents reported their top five health problems: Anxiety (76%), Loss of concentration (71%), Disrupted sleep (71%), Hypervigilance symptoms (60%), and Stress headaches (55%).

The newer online WBI Instant Polls are single-question surveys that are also self-selected samples. Our non-scientific Instant Polls accurately depict the perceptions of workers targeted for bullying at work as contrasted with the views of all adult Americans in our scientific national surveys.

This time we recreated a 52-item health checklist that asked about stress-related physical health com- plications that occur after exposure to bullying, psychological effects. Four additional questions asked whether or not respondents were treated by either physicians or mental health professionals. There were 516 respondents. No demographic data were collected. We do not know their gender, however, we do know from prior WBI online studies that the sample is comprised of people who declare themselves bullied at work, now or in the past.

Instant Poll 2012-D has some methodological strengths. First, the list of health problems in the 2012 survey is more comprehensive than the one used in 2003. With nine more years experience in the field, the items more accurately reflect the reality targets endure. Another advantage is that we could calculate adjusted prevalence rates based on the reports of seeking treatment by either a physician or mental health professional.

The principal shortcoming of Instant Poll methodology is its generalizability. We can only extrapolate to workers targeted for bullying at work. Further, we do not know the respondents’ gender.

The Results

Some good news first. Nearly three-quarters (71%) of targets sought treatment from a physician. Over half (63%) saw a mental health professional for their work-related symptoms.

The top 15 health problems from bullying, ranked from most to least frequent, were:

Anticipation of next negative event; Overwhelming anxiety; Sleep disruption (hard to begin/too little); Loss of concentration or memory; Uncontrollable mood swings; States of agitation or anger; Pervasive sadness; Heart palpitations; Insomnia; High blood pressure (hypertension); Obsession over personal circumstances; Intrusive thoughts (flashbacks, nightmares); Loss of affect (flat emotional responses); Depression (diagnosed); Migraine headaches

The percentages appear in the complete report.

Anxiety is the most common psychological symptom of workplace bullying reported by 80%. Panic attacks afflict 52%. Thankfully agoraphobia was reported by only 17% of targets.

Half (49%) of targets reported being diagnosed with clinical depression. Sleep disruption, loss of concentration, mood swings, and pervasive sadness and insomnia were more common (ranging from 77% to 50%).

With respect to PTSD, 30% of respondents reported being diagnosed with it; 19% diagnosed with Acute Stress Disorder. Though targets reported much higher rates of PTSD symptoms: forms of Hypervigilance (ranged from 83% to 59%), Intrusive thoughts (50%), but dissociation was only 14%.

About psychotropic medications: 22% were prescribed for the first time; 39% required increased dosages.

Respondents could also check cardiological system health problems. Heart palpitations (61%) and hypertension (60%) were the most common symptoms reported. All other cardiological symptoms were very rare.

Targets reported other diseases that can be exacerbated by stress: Migraine headaches (48%), Irritable bowel disorder (37%), Chronic fatigue syndrome (33%) and Sexual dysfunction (27%).

Remarkably, bullied targets did not report problems with addictions to street drugs, overeating or alcohol or relapsing into a formerly controlled addiction. Bulimia and anorexia were almost nonexistent.

We also asked about violence. Violence toward self is suicide. Less than a third of targets had contemplated suicide (29%) and fewer still actually planned how to commit it (16%). Violence directed at others was planned by only 14% of targets. However, 41% could understand how a person could be driven to hurting or killing those who had bullied them.

Finally, a vast majority of bullied targets report feeling betrayed by coworkers (74%) and are now distrustful of institutions (63%).

Download the complete report.


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This entry was posted on Thursday, August 9th, 2012 at 10:05 am and is filed under Bullying & Health, Tutorials About Bullying, WBI Education, WBI Surveys & Studies. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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  1. kachina2 says:

    I would be interested in comparing symptoms reported by self-identified targets with a control group who deny having experience with workplace bullying, as well as to a general population survey. Interesting to consider that those surveyed have identified the source of their stress, and wonder how bullied workers who have NOT identified the source of their symptoms would compare!

    A 29% prevalence of individuals contemplating suicide is alarming, as is the 41% who identify with acts of violence directed toward others. 

    I would guess that most of the targets didn’t just FEEL betrayed by co-workers…they actually have been. Feelings frequently have a basis in fact. I also suspect that their distrust of institutions is well-founded. Of course, my opinions are based on my own experience, which amounts to nothing my ex-health care employer felt a need to concern itself with in any way that was helpful to me. 

  2. […] our health – individually, and collectively. Take work life as an example. One study from the Workplace Bullying Institute suggests that 71% of people who felt they were bullied at work were treated by a physician for […]

  3. […] supervision and other types of workplace bullying can also cause psychological harm. According to a WBI survey on the health impact of workplace bullying, 80 percent of those targeted by bullies experienced […]

  4. […] from post-traumatic stress disorder years after the bullying occurred. According to the WBI’s 2012 Impact of Workplace Bullying on Individuals’ Health survey report, bullying drove 71 percent of targets to seek treatment from a physician; an alarming 29 percent […]

  5. […] from post-traumatic stress disorder years after the bullying occurred. According to the WBI’s 2012 Impact of Workplace Bullying on Individuals’ Health survey report, bullying drove 71 percent of targets to seek treatment from a physician; an alarming 29 percent […]

  6. […] example, genuine workplace bullying can lead to depression, anxiety and other physical dysfunctions. It’s the same at […]

  7. […] research has shown that workplace bullying can lead to significant physical and mental health  problems, including […]

  8. Roxane says:

    There needs to be more information on assessing and coping with bullying when the employer is a small business and the “court of last resort” (i.e., the sole and only boss) IS the bully and moreover is so powerful in the local community that the target who either quits or is fired is unable to find other employment. Especially when the bullying boss commits physical violence as well as emotional, mental and psychological violence against the employee, the bullying boss puts that employee in a “my word against hers” if the victim attempts to go to the police about the bully boss’ physical assaults. In my opinion the only thing that will help is for OSHA and state versions of OSHA to recognize workplace bullying and make laws and regulations prohibiting it. In my state (Oregon) a victim cannot even file a worker’s compensation claim for physical results of workplace bullying.

    • The smallest of businesses, family-run, are the only places from which we tell bullied targets to run very fast. There will be no resolution in your favor. As for OSHA, it is toothless and understaffed. The employer penalty for employee death averages near $5,000 with a maximum of $10,000.

  9. Mandy Tigert says:

    This is a topic too familiar for myself having been the employee bullied on the job and in my career which is the most devastating position that anyone can only imagine, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is what an employee can suffer based on the eustress, negative stress that an employer or manager places in the environment creating a toxic, hostile work environment. I have found too often than not that when you do a good job, care, follow through on a stated mission in my case I worked in healthcare providing services to children, adults, and families. I was forced into working long hours, being on call 24 hours a day 7 days a week, sacrificing time, energy toward my family to follow directives and fulfill job demands out of fear of losing my job at the time. People are pushed by those persons that are suppose to be supportive and create a positive work environment, but that so did not happen. The events that have occurred over time have impacted me negatively in some aspects (depression, anxiety, negative self talk, ptsd, fears)positive (more awareness into issues not only for myself but for others to motivate me for greater purpose, not allow others to beat me down believe in myself and my abilities and refuse to conform to their opinions or outlooks. This is a topic that is increasing across the board and I have interest myself in improving the work environments through training, advocacy, and improved work environments to lower the physical health issues, emotional/mental issues that are a direct cause from the stress endured in such an environment.

  10. It would make sense for schools to require a week of awareness for the adults as they do for the students of schools. If the adults of the schools which have this situation are not modeling for their students positive social interactions. I have asked this to happen where I work, but nothing is done. One can only wonder at the uncounted hundreds who actually die from the ill effects of workplace bullying. It is a silent maurader. I hope Mandy has found relief from her torment.

  11. Christin says:

    A few of the things in this story I can’t believe.
    Really we in the 2017. There are countless scientists
    in the niche, and a lot of them are actually
    making good amounts of money to do the work. How is this continue to happening?
    Simply because no one care.

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