New reports indicate that employees who are harassed at workplace may be more vulnerable to stress. This leads to mental and physical ailments like higher body weight and heart disease.
Employees with abusive bosses often deal with the situation in ways that inadvertently make them feel worse.
In at least one extreme case, workplace bullying has even been linked to suicide.
Gary Namie, a social psychologist who directs the Workplace Bullying Institute said that bullying is "a form of abuse which carries tremendous health harm."
A new study surveyed nearly 500 employees about how they dealt with abusive supervision.
According to study author Dana Yagil of the University of Haifa in Israel, abusive supervisors are bosses who humiliate and insult their employees, never let them forget their mistakes, break promises and isolate employees from other co-workers,
About 13 to 14 percent of Americans work under an abusive supervisor, Yagil said.
Her study on Israeli workers found that abused employees tend to cope by avoiding their bosses, seeking support from co-workers and trying to reassure themselves.
As useful as those strategies might sound, however, they actually made employees feel worse.
"It is understandable that employees wish to reduce the amount of their contact with an abusive boss to the minimum, but the strategies they use actually further increase their stress instead of reducing it," Yagil said.
"This may happen because these strategies are associated with a sense of weakness and perpetuate the employee's fear of the supervisor."
Avoiding a workplace bully might seem easier than avoiding a school bully, given that employees can quit their jobs. But workers get caught in a cycle of stress, Namie said. An online survey of targeted workers by the WBI found that they put up with the abuse for an average of 22 months.
The stress of the bullying may itself lead to bad decision-making, Namie said and sometimes this cycle ends with tragedy.
Namie works as an expert legal witness on bullying. In one upcoming case, he said, a woman put up with daily barrages of screaming abuse from her boss for a year.
By the end, she was working 18-hour days, trying to shield the employees under her from her boss' tyranny, Namie asserted.
Finally, she and several of her co-workers put together a 25-page complaint to human resources. Nothing happened, until she was called in for a meeting with senior management. Namie said that the woman knew she would be fired for making the complaint.
"Rather than allowing herself to be terminated, she bought a pistol, went to work, left three suicide notes, and she took her own life at work," he said.
The study has been published in the International Journal of Stress Management.