Workplace Bullying Associated with Coronary Heart Disease

A large-scale Danish study shows that targets of on-the-job bullying and violence face significantly higher risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD).

The study analyzed data from 79,201 participants in Denmark and Sweden with no prior history of CVD. The participants were aged 18 to 65, with a mean  age of 43 years, and 53% were women.

Nine percent of the participants were subsequently bullied at work and 13% experienced violence or threats of violence at work.

The study found:

  • Compared with participants who were not bullied at work, those who were had a 59% increased risk for CVD after adjusting for sex, age, marital status, educational level and country of birth.
  • People who said they were bullied frequently (almost every day) in the past 12 months had a 120 percent higher risk of CVD.
  • Workers who suffered the intentional use of force or threats of force at work  had a 25% higher risk of CVD.

The study defined workplace bullying as repeated or enduring psychological aggressors at work.

Stopping workplace bullying would prevent a ‘sizable number” of heart attacks and strokes.

The study found “consistent support for our hypothesis that workplace bullying and workplace violence are associated with a higher risk of new-onset CVD.”  If the association is causal, the researchers add, “eliminating workplace bullying and violence would prevent a sizable number of CVD events from happening.”

The researchers said workplace bullying and violence contribute to lower self-esteem and loss of coping resources. They may elicit a range of coping mechanisms, such as over-eating and excessive alcohol consumption. Bullied workers also are three times more likely to report depression.

The perpetrators of workplace bullying were mostly from inside the organization – 79% were colleagues, supervisors, or subordinates.

The study, “Workplace bullying and workplace violence as risk factors for cardiovascular disease: a multi-cohort study,” was published on November 19 by the European Health Journal.