Meredith McGinley, PhD, University of Wisconsin- Parkside; Tracy Lin, PhD, JD, University of Illinois at Chicago; Judith A. Richman, PhD, University of Illinois at Chicago
The objectives of this study are to examine the effects of prior exposure to workplace harassment on mental health and alcohol use/misuse. We hypothesize that prior exposure to chronic sexual or generalized workplace harassment will predict more symptoms of depression and anxiety and greater use/misuse of alcohol after a ~13 year gap.
It is well established that exposure to sexual harassment (SH) or generalized workplace harassment/bullying (GWH) is associated with increased risk for substance use and poor mental health (e.g., Richman et al., 1999; Rospenda et al., 2009), however long-term effects are unknown. This study represents the first study of the long-term effects of prior exposure to workplace harassment in a diverse sample.
Individuals initially drawn from a university-employed sample and surveyed at 8 time points between the years 1996-2007 (W1-W8) were resurveyed by web or mail at wave 9 (W9) in 2020. We received a total of n=923 responses (out of a possible sample of N=2387; removing 88 individuals who were determined to be deceased, response rate was 40%; 55% identified as female; 55% were white, 27% Black, 8% Hispanic/Latinx, 11% Asian/PI; mean age = 53). Latent class analyses were conducted on the W1-W8 data to determine exposure patterns to SH and GWH. Both sets of latent class analyses revealed a 2-class solution: chronic exposure or infrequent exposure to SH or GWH over W1-W8. We have not completed multivariate analyses for these data, but bivariate analyses were conducted to examine differences between chronic versus infrequent classes of SH and GWH over W1-W8 in symptoms of depression (measured by 7 items from the CESD) and anxiety (9 items from the Profile of Mood States), and problematic alcohol use (frequency of consuming 6+ drinks in one day in the past 30 days, number of times intoxicated in the past 30 days; past 12 months Brief MAST score) at W9.
T-tests or Mann Whitney U tests, as appropriate for the outcome variable, show that at the p=.05 level or lower, prior chronic exposure to either SH or GWH at W1-W8 is associated with significantly higher mean frequency of binge drinking and number of times intoxicated in the past 30 days at W9 than those with infrequent exposure. Neither prior chronic SH exposure nor prior chronic GWH exposure was significantly associated with mean score on the Brief MAST at W9. Both prior chronic SH exposure and prior chronic GWH exposure were associated with significantly higher mean symptoms of depression and anxiety in the past 7 days at W9, providing preliminary support for our hypotheses. Multivariate analyses will control for demographic characteristics, current exposure to SH and GWH, and mean W1-W8 levels of each outcome variable.
These data suggest that chronic exposure to either SH or GWH over a period of multiple years is associated with long-term behavioral and mental health effects for targets. Strengths of these data are the longitudinal design with long-term follow-up and a diverse sample, representing a wide variety of past or current job types (e.g., clerical/administrative, service/maintenance, faculty) and racial/ethnic identities. Limitations are that the sample was originally drawn from one organization, and some individuals were lost to follow-up. These results suggest that these exposures can have long-term health implications for targets. Enforcement of existing laws that prohibit sexual harassment and enactment of similar laws to protect workers against workplace bullying could help to protect long-term health of workers.
SH and GWH represent critical workplace exposures that can have long-term health effects on targets. More longitudinal research with longer follow-up in more representative samples is needed to support the generalizability of these findings.