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The health effects of harassment at work

Harassment at work can have a number of effects on an individual, especially in developing countries. Let's explore.
© University of Bergen/Authors: B.E. Moen, N. Magerøy
Bullying or harassment should be stopped everywhere. © Colourbox

The symptoms of harassment at work

Psychosomatic symptoms are very common among harassed workers, including:

  • Headache
  • Insomnia, night mares
  • Concentration problems
  • Stomach pain
  • Musculoskeletal symptoms
  • Anxiety
  • Depression

Harassment at work

The symptoms among these workers are sometimes quite similar to the ones we see among persons with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). However, harassment at work is generally not accepted as a cause for PTSD in the diagnostic manuals, although these similarities are present.
In some countries, there have been harassment cases that have been accepted as a cause of PTSD and other mental diseases such as depression.

When harassment starts

The symptoms developing from harassment develop gradually. When the harassment starts, it is common to feel confused and insecure (“Is there something wrong with me?”). Then comes a period of anger; the harassed worker becomes angry and can show this in different ways, both at home and at work.
Irritability can be pronounced for the harassed worker at this stage, but the anger is generally not experienced by the perpetrator of the harassment.

Low self-esteem and low job satisfaction

Feelings of low self-esteem and low job satisfaction are often reported. The harassed worker feels a violation of his/hers integrity and dignity. Isolation at work has negative health consequences and exclusion from the work environment is a common experience for the harassed person.
Many are thinking about quitting their job, and some do. In countries with sick leave benefits, these workers often start a sick leave period, which might be extended for a long time. The person’s depression can become very serious if the situation continues for a long period. Suicides due to harassment at work have been reported in several countries.
Harassment at work can
be lethal – causing suicide.

Prevalence of harassment

It is difficult to give exact figures for the prevalence of harassment at workplaces. European studies suggest the prevalence to be between 2 and 14 percent. The figures differ from the methods used for obtaining the information.

In some cases, researchers define harassment for the persons involved in the studies, but in other cases, this is not done. As a result, there can be substantial differences in the answers to such studies.

Developing countries

Studies showing figures from developing countries are difficult to find. This does not mean that the problem does not exist in such countries; it is just a few persons who have focused on this problem.

The problem is there and could be even more serious, as the workers in developing countries might be less protected by the legislation and have weak unions and no company routines for their support.

A man hugs a seated woman Does the office worker enjoy the intimacy created by her supervisor? If not, she should clearly tell him that. © B.E. Moen

If you’d like to learn more about occupational health in developing countries, check out the full online course from the University of Bergen, below.

© University of Bergen/Authors: B.E. Moen, N. Magerøy
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Occupational Health in Developing Countries

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