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Workplace bullying as an antecedent of mental health problems: a five-year prospective and representative study

Abstract

Purpose

The present study investigates the proposed long-term relationship between exposure to workplace bullying and subsequent mental health in the form of anxiety and depression with a time lag of 5 years, exploring potential gender differences in these relationships.

Methods

The study employs a prospective design with a 5-year time lag in a representative sample of the Norwegian workforce. A cohort of 1,613 employees reported on their exposure to workplace bullying and their symptoms of anxiety and depression at both measurement times.

Results

The results showed exposure to workplace bullying to be a significant predictor of mental health problems 5 years on, even after controlling for baseline mental health status, gender, age, job-change, job demands and job control, yet for men only. Baseline levels of mental health problems in terms of symptoms of anxiety and depression did not predict subsequent exposure to bullying at follow-up among women, but anxiety did in the case of men.

Conclusion

Workplace bullying poses a serious long-term threat to the health and well-being of workers, at least for men. The results of the study pinpoint the need for mental health treatment as well as for preventive measures in relation to workplace bullying, and pinpoint the need for a gender perspective in these studies.

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Acknowledgments

The present study was based on data from a collaborative project between the University of Bergen and Statistics Norway (Statistisk Sentralbyrå), where the latter institution drew the sample and collected the data. The project was made possible by grants from two Norwegian Employer Associations (Næringslivets Hovedorganisasjon and Kommunenes Sentralforbud) and the Norwegian Government (Rikstrygdeverket/NAV Farve). Thanks to Bengt Oscar Lagerstrøm, Maria Høstmark and Aina Holmøy in Statistics Norway, and Stig Berge Matthiesen and Anders Skogstad at the Department of Psychosocial Science at the University of Bergen for their contribution. We thank the anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments on earlier drafts of this article.

Conflict of interest

Ståle Einarsen runs a part-time business delivering anti-bullying training for managers and health and safety personnel. Morten B. Nielsen declares no conflict of interest.

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Einarsen, S., Nielsen, M.B. Workplace bullying as an antecedent of mental health problems: a five-year prospective and representative study. Int Arch Occup Environ Health 88, 131–142 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00420-014-0944-7

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Keywords

  • Workplace bullying
  • Harassment
  • Mental health at work
  • Prospective design
  • Well-being at work
  • Social stress at work