Discrimination from one's manager really bites

October 3, 2012

Mental health workers are more likely to be depressed or anxious when they experience discrimination from their managers than when it comes from patients, a study has found.

Discrimination from the patients' visitors also causes more distress than discrimination from the patients.

A research team led by Professor Stephen Wood at the University of Leicester's School of Management looked at the effects of prejudice, including sex, racial and , from different groups of people on .

The study, funded by the Department of Health's National Institute for Health and , draws on the experience of 1,733 mental health workers in the UK, including doctors, nurses, and support staff. The researchers distributed questionnaires to every worker in 100 wards and 36 outpatient teams, measuring four states of mind: anxiety, depression, emotional exhaustion and . It also looked at whether they had experienced discrimination in the past year, alongside more general questions such as how fair they perceived their organisation to be.

They then used advanced statistical analysis to assess whether workers who suffered discrimination at the hands of four different groups of people – patients, visitors, managers and co-workers – were more or less likely than other workers to have .

From the four different discrimination sources, discrimination from managers had the largest impact on the anxiety, depression, emotional exhaustion and of the mental health worker. In addition, and perhaps surprisingly, discrimination from patients' visitors had a larger impact on depression and than discrimination from the patients themselves. Discrimination from one's fellow workers had less effect on any form of distress than that from managers or visitors.

Stephen Wood, Professor of Management at the Leicester School of Management, said: "The finding that managers can distress workers the most can be explained by managers' large power over staff's working lives, including their chances of keeping a job and winning promotion. Moreover, workers feel distressed if they feel the organisation employing them is not treating them fairly - and the behaviour of managers is key to this sense of fairness.

"Aggression from relatives and other visitors is, like aggression from managers, viewed as reflecting badly on the procedures and fairness of the organisation. However, aggression from patients is not readily attributed to failings in the organisation."

The researchers suggest in a paper on the findings that a tightening of policy towards visitors may be desirable, arguing: "The option of permanently excluding them from the premises or involving the police might increase the sense that the organisation is concerned about their staff's welfare and treats them fairly."

Professor Wood's co-authors are Johan Braeken, Professor of Methodology and Statistics at Tilburg University in the Netherlands, and Karen Niven of Manchester Business School.

Explore further: Racial discrimination has different mental health effects on Asians, study shows

More information: Discrimination and Well-Being in Organizations: Testing the Differential Power and Organizational Justice Theories of Workplace Aggression, by Stephen Wood, Johan Braeken and Karen Niven, will be published later this year in The Journal of Business Ethics. Available on line. www.springerlink.com/content/g5375617822w4265/?MUD=MP

Related Stories

Recommended for you

From a very old skeleton, new insights on ancient migrations

October 9, 2015

Three years ago, a group of researchers found a cave in Ethiopia with a secret: it held the 4,500-year-old remains of a man, with his head resting on a rock pillow, his hands folded under his face, and stone flake tools surrounding ...

Mexican site yields new details of sacrifice of Spaniards

October 9, 2015

It was one of the worst defeats in one of history's most dramatic conquests: Only a year after Hernan Cortes landed in Mexico, hundreds of people in a Spanish-led convey were captured, sacrificed and apparently eaten.

Ancient genome from Africa sequenced for the first time

October 8, 2015

The first ancient human genome from Africa to be sequenced has revealed that a wave of migration back into Africa from Western Eurasia around 3,000 years ago was up to twice as significant as previously thought, and affected ...

Who you gonna trust? How power affects our faith in others

October 6, 2015

One of the ongoing themes of the current presidential campaign is that Americans are becoming increasingly distrustful of those who walk the corridors of power – Exhibit A being the Republican presidential primary, in which ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.