Workplace Bullying as a Predictor of Disability Retirement

26 Jul

Nielsen MB; Emberland JS; Knardahl S. Workplace Bullying as a Predictor of Disability Retirement: A Prospective Registry Study of Norwegian Employees. J Occup Environ Med. 2017; 59(7):609-614 (ISSN: 1536-5948)

Workplace Bullying: A situation wherein an employee is persistently and systematically exposed to harassment at work and wherein this employee finds it difficult to defend him- or herself against the harassment

To be able to reduce the disability retirement rate, it is necessary to identify factors that promote or inhibit both health and work ability. Knowledge about psychosocial work exposures may be especially important, but only a few factors have been studied to this date. Of the factors examined, one review showed that there is moderate evidence for the role of low control and for the combination of high demands and low control as predictors of disability retirement. Another review found that low control, monotonous work, job strain, effort-reward imbalance, a lack of social support, problems related to the organization of work, and leadership behaviors are related to an increased risk of disability.

Workplace bullying, defined as a situation wherein an employee persistently and systematically is exposed to harassment at work and wherein this employee finds it difficult to defend him- or herself against the harassment, has been highlighted as a potential cause of disability retirement. Leymann6 claimed that, unless a managerial intervention takes place, bullying will continue to escalate until it reaches a final “expulsion stage” where the target is forced out of his or her job or current position. As many targets of bullying will experience difficulties in finding and maintaining new employment later on, bullying increases the risk of being removed from working life altogether.

A prospective study published this year was conducted on Norwegian employees to determine the impact of workplace bullying on disability retirement. The specific aims of this study were to determine:

  1. whether bullying is related to all-cause disability retirement,
  2. whether bullying contributes to the variance in disability retirement above high job demands and lack of job control, and
  3. to establish the relationship.

The methods involved survey data from 14,501 Norwegian employees on exposure factors limited to registry data on all-cause disability retirement. The study found that bullying significantly predicated risk of disability retirement (hazard ratio + 1.55; 95% confidence interval = 1.13 to 2.12). This relationship remained statistically significant after adjusting for job demands and lack of job control. Women had the highest risk of disability, but both bullied men and women had a higher risk of disability than non-bullied employees of the same gender.

The study concluded that bullying is a risk factor of disability retirement. Measures taken to prevent bullying may be beneficial for reducing both health problems and disability retirement.


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