Mental Health Claims

Anti-Bullying Efforts May Impact Comp Costs

Workplace bullying costs employers $4 billion annually, including workers' comp costs.
By: | February 7, 2014 • 4 min read

Employers could potentially save more than $4 billion in annual absences by preventing workplace mistreatment, suggests a new study. Research indicates bullied workers cost 5.5 percent of the sickness absenteeism in 2010 alone. By focusing on programs to reduce mistreatment of their workers, employers might save on their workers’ comp, disability, and other health-related costs.

The study — Workplace Mistreatment and Sickness Absenteeism from Work: Results From the 2010 National Health Interview Survey — examines the association between exposure to workplace mistreatment and the occurrence and number of workdays missed due to illness/injury in the preceding 12 months. Researchers from the National Institute of Occupational and Environmental Medicine used the self-reported data from 13,807 employed adults included in the 2010 NHIS. The study was reported in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine.

“Workplace mistreatment is associated with sickness absence in the United States,” according to the research. “While a causal relationship could not be established due to the cross-sectional design of the study, this study reveals the economic importance of developing workplace mistreatment prevention strategies.”

There is no standard definition of bullying. However, it is generally considered to include “situations in which there is harassment or other negative acts directed at someone in the work environment,” the study says. “These negative acts can range from hostile behavior, such as humiliation, intimidation and insults, threats, harassment, withholding information, undermining an individual, and critiques of professional competence, to nonverbal, indirect, or passive acts such as gossiping and isolation or social exclusion.”

The results showed that “being mistreated was associated with a 42 percent increase in the number of missed workdays.”

Because of the absence of a definitive definition, researchers were unable to determine an exact prevalence of workplace bullying. However, the 2010 survey said 9.3 million, or 7.6 percent, of U.S. workers reported having been mistreated at their workplace.

“Both occurrence and duration of sickness absence were higher for mistreated than for non-mistreated workers,” the research said. The results showed that “being mistreated was associated with a 42 percent increase in the number of missed workdays, controlling for covariates. The marginal effect analysis showed that lost workdays differed by 2.45 days between mistreated and non-mistreated workers.”

Workplace mistreatment has been associated with both mental and physical ailments. Among the physical problems associated with mistreatment are fibromyalgia and cardiovascular disease.

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As the study noted, previous research has indicated that victims of workplace mistreatment often experienced anxiety, stress and stress reactions, depressive symptoms, post-traumatic stress disorder, and negative affectivity.

“Furthermore, as exposure to bullying increases, the risk of depressive symptoms also increases,” the study says. “Besides targets of workplace bullying, employees who observed workplace bullying have also reported stress and anxiety.”

Women were more likely to report mistreatment than men, according to the study. There was no statistically significant difference reported according to race, education and size of firm. However, there were different exposure rates by industry.

“Workers in protective services, community and social services, and health care support occupations reported higher occurrence of mistreatment — average 17.8 percent — than workers in architecture and engineering; life, physical, and social science; and business and finance —  average exposure rate of 3.5 percent.”

Overall, 46,354 days of absence were reported by 13,807 respondents. After adjusting for the number of hours worked during the year, the average number of working days missed among non-mistreated workers was 3.2 compared to 5.4 among mistreated workers, a 68.8 percent difference. The duration of absence also differed with 9.51 days among mistreated workers compared to 7.23 days for non-mistreated workers.

The researchers estimated the cost of days of absence associated with mistreatment by using an average hourly wage of $22.77 and an eight-hour workday. When the number of days of absence was applied, “the results revealed that workplace mistreatment was associated with $4.1 billion cost in terms of sickness absence in 2010,” the researchers noted. However, the actual cost of workplace mistreatment may be even higher, as the estimate “did not include costs to employers in terms of reduced productivity, increased presenteeism, increased turnover, litigation/compensation, damaged corporate reputation, and decreased innovation.”

While no causal relationship was established, the authors speculated that workplace mistreatment could intensify sickness absenteeism because of increased health issues since it is associated with both physical and mental health problems. Another possibility is that there could be a negative impact on job satisfaction and commitment to work, and sickness absence may be used as a way to avoid or cope with the mistreatment.

Nancy Grover is the president of NMG Consulting and the Editor of Workers' Compensation Report, a publication of our parent company, LRP Publications. She can be reached at [email protected]

Risk Matrix: Presented by Liberty Mutual Insurance

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The R&I Editorial Team can be reached at [email protected]