Workplace bullying, such as belittling comments, persistent
criticism of work and withholding resources, appears to
inflict more harm on employees than sexual harassment,
say researchers who presented their findings at a conference
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 lead author 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.
This finding was presented at the Seventh International
Conference on Work, Stress and Health, co-sponsored by
the American Psychological Association, the National Institute
of Occupational Safety and Health and the Society for
Occupational Health Psychology.
Hershcovis and co-author Julian Barling, PhD, of Queens
University in Ontario, Canada, 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 and unhealthy consequences for employees,
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.
No differences were found between employees experiencing
either type of mistreatment on how satisfied they were
with their co-workers or with their work.
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.
From a total of 128 samples that were used, 46 included
subjects who experienced sexual harassment, 86 experienced
workplace aggression and six experienced both. Sample
sizes ranged from 1,491 to 53,470 people. Participants
ranged from 18 to 65 years old. The work aggression samples
included both men and women. The sexual harassment samples
examined primarily women because, Hershcovis said, past
research has shown that men interpret and respond differently
to the behaviors that women perceive as sexual harassment.