Bullying and violence in the workplace increase risk for heart disease by as much as 59%, based on a Scandinavian study of more than 79,000 adults. Findings were published in the European Heart Journal and reinforce the negative impact that stress has on heart health.
Using data from a 1999-2011 Swedish survey, this study looked at the impact of workplace stressors on risk for heart disease. The goal was to see whether experiencing ongoing bullying or violence has a negative impact on heart health.
According to authors, we know that stressors like job strain and long working hours are associated with increased cardiovascular risk. Studies also suggest that bullying and violence may increase risk for type 2 diabetes. However, the link between heart health and violence in the workplace is less clear.
To learn more, researchers analyzed workplace survey data and national health registries that reported key health outcomes. The study included 79,201 working men and women between the ages of 18 and 65, all of who were free of heart disease at the start of the study.
Surveys showed that 9% of participants experienced bullying at work and 13% were exposed to workplace violence. During an average follow-up of twelve years, 3,229 participants had developed heart disease or stroke.
After analysis, researchers found that experiencing workplace violence was associated with a 25% increased risk for heart disease. The impact of bullying was even greater, as adults reporting bullying had 59% greater risk for heart disease than those without.
According to authors, workplace bullying includes psychologically aggressive behaviors at work, while workplace violence includes the use of physical force or threat of actions at work. In study surveys, participants were asked to report exposure to both stressors in the past year. Those that reported any bullying or violence were also asked about how often it occurred.
Participants were put into three groups—those who never experienced workplace violence or bullying, those who were occasionally exposed (less than once a week), and those who were frequently exposed (more than once a week). Analysis showed that the more participants were exposed to these stressors, the greater their risk for heart disease and stroke.
What findings show, according to authors, is the impact that continued stress can have on heart health. While stress is a normal part of life, repeated exposure to things like violence and bullying can increase cardiovascular risk.
While we don’t know exactly how stress impacts heart health, it’s likely that ongoing stress increases blood pressure, heart rate and inflammation—all of which spell trouble for heart health. Stress can also impact mental health, which is closely linked to cardiovascular risk. For example, violence may contribute to lower self-esteem, depression and anxiety. Workplace stressors could also contribute to poor lifestyle choices like overeating and drinking too much alcohol. Over time, these factors can wreak havoc on both mental and physical health.
According to authors, additional research is needed to understand how common workplace bullying and violence are, especially in other areas of the world, and how they impact health. Efforts are also needed to reduce stressors in the workplace, as continued exposure likely contributes to heart disease—the No. 1 killer of men and women in the United States.