People being bullied at work are more likely to consider suicide than those who have never experienced workplace bullying, a Norwegian study suggests.
The study, Workplace Bullying and Suicidal Ideation: A 3-Wave Longitudinal Norwegian Study, examined whether exposure to workplace bullying is related to an increased risk of suicidal tendencies over time and whether suicidal ideation is related to subsequent bullying.
The study involved a randomised nationwide sample of 1846 employees in Norway and followed them from 2005 to 2010.
The survey revealed that while less than five percent of participants had suicidal thoughts during the study period, they were about twice as likely to do so after being bullied at work.
According to the lead study author, Morten Birkeland Nielsen and his colleagues, at least 800,000 people worldwide commit suicide every year.
“Our study adds to the understanding of how bullying is related to thoughts about suicide by showing that the perception of being bullied at work actually is a precursor of suicidal ideation and not a consequence,” Reuters quoted Mr Nielsen as saying.
Three main characteristics of workplace bullying were considered in the study: a worker should be a target of systemic unwanted social behaviour; bullying exposure should happen over a long period of time, often with increased frequency and intensity; and the bullied employee feel they are unable to get out of the situation or put a stop to the way they are being treated.
The average proportion of workers reporting bullying at work ranged from 4.2 percent to 4.6 percent. Prevalence of suicidal ideation varied from 3.9 percent to 4.9 percent.
The study showed that while people who reported bullying early in the study were more likely to report suicidal ideations, the reverse didn’t prove true. Workers who said they have considered suicide at the start of the study were no more likely to report bullying than those who never considered suicide.
The researchers concluded that workplace bullying “may be a precursor to suicidal ideation, whereas suicidal ideation seems to have no impact on subsequent risk of being bullied”.
They recommended integrating bullying regulations into work-related legislation and public health policies.
Bullying can happen in any workplace and can have a direct impact on a worker’s health and his ability to perform his tasks. It also can reduce overall productivity.
In 2013, Safe Work Australia and The Australian National University release a study which revealed that particular conditions and experiences in the workplace may raise the risk of depression and the ensuing effects including time off work.
Another SWA report, The Australian Workplace Barometer Project found high levels of bullying in Australian workplaces than international rates. According to the report, depression cost Australian employers around $8 billion annually due to sickness and absenteeism, of which $693 million was due to job strain and workplace bullying.
Everyone is responsible in ensuring a bully-free work environment. All workers can do something to prevent workplace bullying from becoming a risk to their health and safety.
Under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (WHS Act), a Person Conducting a Business or Undertaking (PCBU) should have in place systems, policies and procedures to prevent bullying and maintain a healthy work environment.
Bullying creates a significant risk to work health and safety but it can be prevented. The key to addressing workplace bullying is to establish a consistent organisational culture that is based on respect and dignity.
Comcare provides guidance, tools and education to help employers and workers create a positive, bully-free workplace.