Due to its relentless nature, bullying in the workplace can seriously damage the health of the victim. There are numerous studies that show a tight correlation between bullying and mental or physical health problems like insomnia, chronic fatigue or even problems with decision-making. The strongest effect occurs when bullying is directed at personal facets of the victim’s life. Personal attacks have been shown to increase the number and the intensity of the psychological problems experienced in response to workplace bullying.
40% of bullying victims admit bullying in the workplace affects their physical health and 43% are affected mentally. Of those who were affected one in five were actively taking medication to mitigate the effects. Being the target of a workplace bully increases anxiety and depression. In addition, victims who also received very little social support had the worst mental health outcomes.
Prolonged exposure to bullying changes individual perceptions of the environment around them. They begin to see the world through a new lens: full of peril, uncertainty and hostile actors. This shuts down critical thinking, increases mistakes and increases the intensity and frequency of occupational accidents. Most often, this kind of distress manifests as intense anxiety, depression and/or changes in social functioning.
The social climate of an organisation influences the prevalence bullying. Working conditions that are tense, low trust and in constant conflict are more likely to engender bullying. Victims of bullying tend receive inadequate support from superiors and coworkers. Different types of support correlate uniquely with different forms of harassment. Bullying aimed at the victim’s professional life is mediated to a larger extent by the support they receive from coworkers rather than their superiors.
Support from coworkers is protective against bullying in the workplace, especially when it’s aimed at an employees personal life or when the bullying takes the form of social isolation. In such cases there’s really no relationship between the support received from superiors and the intensity of the harassment, because it takes many people to socially isolate somebody and a relationship with any single person, even a superior, is not enough to nullify that.
Isolation is something that can only happen when coworkers are complicit in the bullying. Attacks related to an employee’s personal life typically originate from coworkers and not from superiors. The bully would need information about the victim’s private life and such information is typically not available to bosses. However, bullying that involves verbal aggression happens far more often on the part of superiors.
Measuring the effects of workplace bullying
1. Negative Acts Questionnaire (NAQ), this questionnaire contains 22 items to measure employees exposure to bullying.
2. General Health Questionnaire (GHQ), this questionnaire focuses on four areas: depression, social dysfunction, somatic complaints, anxiety and insomnia.
3. Job Content Questionnaire (JQC).
4. Responsible Management Questionnaire (NMQ).
An organisation with poor communication networks provides cover for bullying to occur in the workplace. However, an organisation that is managed by responsible leaders is characterised by a type of openness and, more importantly from a stress standpoint, a sense of stability. This is why responsible managers, through their management style alone, suppress workplace bullying and the negative effects this has on the mental health of team members.