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 […]

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