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Research: Men and Women Respond Differently to Bullying at Work

Men are more likely to opt out of the workforce because of bullying on the job, recent research shows. Women, on the other hand, are more likely to stay put … and wind up taking sick leave as a result of the stress.
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Image Credit: kennymatic/Flickr

The study, performed by researchers at the University of Copenhagen and Aarhus University in the Netherlands, surveyed 3,182 Danish workers in the public and private sector. The results were published in the journal Labour Economics.

Researchers found that 7 percent of the respondents reported being bullied at work. Forty-three percent were men; 57 percent were women. According to the research team, “gender does not significantly explain exposure to bullying and that exposure to bullying is associated with negative immediate self-reported health for both genders.”

How Men and Women Differ in Their Responses to Bullying

“The million-dollar question is why men primarily react by leaving the workplace, while women react to bullying by taking prolonged sick leaves. If anything, this illustrates that men and women handle bullying differently,” said study author Tine Mundbjerg Eriksen, an assistant professor of economics at Aarhus University.

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Although the research didn’t provide definitive answers about why women and men respond so differently, it did offer insight into how these differences affect them.

Researchers found that enduring bullying at work doubled female respondents’ absences, and increased their use of antidepressants. Women also experienced negative impact on their health during and long after being bullied on the job.

Men were less likely to report health problems as a result of the issue — although not necessarily less likely to experience them.

“In fact, it seems that men who are bullied are more likely than women to go to work even though they’re actually sick,” said Erikson. “At the same time, it appears that bullying affects men’s salary level negatively, which indicates that the bullying hampers their opportunities for pay increases and promotions.”

What Bullying at the Office Looks Like — and What You Can Do About It

In a news release about the research, Erikson describes several different manifestations of workplace bullying, including bosses or coworkers who “impede your ability to do your job properly, make changes to your work or hand the fun and important tasks to others.”

Bullying at work is a serious problem, with steep costs to workers and companies. One study cited in the recent research found that bullying costs over 2 million workdays per year. The Workplace Bullying Institute says that bullying can contribute to physical illnesses like hypertension as well as PTSD.

The first step for workers is to recognize the signs of bullying — and to realize that these behaviors are unacceptable in the workplace. Once you’ve identified the problem, you can tailor a solution to fit.

Depending on your particular situation, this might mean:

  1. Being proactive. If you’re being excluded from office events, for example, organizing your own social gatherings with colleagues might be the answer.
  2. Documenting the problem. Get in the habit of recording repeated negative behaviors, so that you’ll be able to demonstrate a pattern, if you have to ask for assistance from your manager or HR.
  3. Standing up for yourself. “Remember, bullies count on you being passive about their behavior,” writes Sherri Gordon at Verywell. (See her checklist for dealing with office bullies, here.)

Ultimately, if the culture is the problem, the best solution might well be to remove yourself from it. As this research demonstrates, the best time to do that is before the situation impacts your health and career.

Tell Us What You Think

Have you ever been bullied at work? We want to hear from you. Tell us your thoughts in the comments or join the conversation on Twitter.

Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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