Workplace bullying associated with higher risk of type 2 diabetes

by Barbara Hewitt on November 16, 2017

Both men and woman are at a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes if they have experienced workplace bullying and violence, new research has found.

Previous studies have shown that issues such as job insecurity and long working hours, with the consequent psychological impacts, are associated with a moderately higher risk of diabetes.

Workplace Discrimination

(By Tiko Aramyan/

Now a new study from researchers in Denmark, Sweden and Finland has looked more specifically at the effects and it found a link between workplace bullying and type 2 diabetes but not that it causes the condition.

Researchers want to do more work and the study report says that they do not know exactly why one might trigger the other. One hypothesis is that stress might contribute to the diabetes diagnosis in some way.

The study involved 45,905 men and women aged between 40 and 65 none of whom had diabetes at the start of the research. It found that being bullied at work was associated with a 46% higher risk of type 2 diabetes, 61% for men and 36% for women.

Adjustment for alcohol consumption and mental health difficulties did not affect this association while adjustment for BMI removed one third of the risk increase. Some 12% of participants had experienced violence or threats of violence in the preceding 12 months.

During a mean follow up of 11.4 years, some 930 participants were found to have type 2 diabetes and after adjusting for confounders, workplace violence was associated with a 26% higher risk of diabetes, for both men and women. Again, adjustment for alcohol consumption and mental health problems did not affect this result.

The authors note that, whilst both bullying and violence represent negative interpersonal relationships, they appear to constitute different concepts and are distinct social stressors. Bullying is psychological aggression, including behaviours such as unfair criticisms, isolation and humiliating work tasks. It is most often perpetrated by people from inside, such as colleagues.

Violence, on the other hand, is more likely to involve physical acts such as pushing or kicking, or the threat of these, and is generally perpetrated by people from outside, such as clients, patients etc. Bullying and violence are distinct behaviours and consequently their induced emotions can be different.

‘Being bullied is regarded as a severe social stressor that may activate the stress response and lead to a range of downstream biological processes that may contribute towards the risk of diabetes,’ the study report says and it suggests that changes caused by stress hormones may be one possible causal pathway.

Also, metabolic changes and obesity may be a mechanism for the increased risk, as the stress response may be linked to the endocrine regulation of appetite, and/or because workplace bullying or violence, and the resulting negative emotional experience, might induce comfort eating behaviours.

‘There is a moderate and robust association between workplace bullying, violence and the development of type 2 diabetes. As both bullying and violence or threats of violence are common in the workplace we suggest that prevention policies should be investigated as a possible means to reduce this risk,’ the study report points out.

‘Further study of possible causal pathways, for example weight gain, negative emotions and the psychological stress response, would help to provide an understanding of the causal mechanisms and to develop cost effective interventions,’ it adds.

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the Community and should not be interpreted as medical advice. Please see your doctor before making any changes to your diabetes management plan.

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