Unfair Treatment on the Job? Silence Harmful

Men Who Keep Quiet About Unfair Treatment in the Workplace May Have Increased Heart Risks

Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on November 23, 2009
From the WebMD Archives

Nov. 23, 2009 -- Bosses don’t like whiners, but men who silently cope with perceived unfair treatment may have increased risk for future heart attack or death from heart disease, a new study shows.

Researchers led by Constanze Leineweber, PhD, of Stockholm University, and colleagues report in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health that men who most often keep silent about unfair treatment on the job have an increased risk of having a heart attack or cardiac death.

They base their findings on workplaces in Stockholm participating in the Work, Lipids and Fibrinogen Stockholm study and 2,755 male employees who hadn’t had a heart attack when the study began in 1992-1995.

The initial screen included an assessment of risk factors, such as high cholesterol and blood pressure and general lifestyle, and evaluation of the men’s means of coping with unfair treatment on the job.

Details of whether any of the subjects later had a heart attack or died as a result of heart disease up to the year 2003 were gathered from national registers of hospital treatment and deaths.


Up to that year, 47 men had a heart attack or died of heart disease, the researchers say.

Covert coping was linked to greater risk of heart attack or cardiac death by the end of the study period. Examples of covert coping would be letting things pass without saying anything or walking away when faced with unfair treatment on the job. On the other hand, open coping would be confronting the person or protesting the unfair treatment.

The researchers write that men “with less consistent patterns of covert coping” had lower risk for death and heart disease.

“The authors believe that the observed association is real rather than attributable to chance,” they write. “If the association between covert coping and increased heart disease is indeed causal, then avoidance of covert coping may lead to health benefits; and other studies additionally suggest that low exposure to unfair treatment may also reduce risk of coronary heart disease incidence and cardiovascular mortality.”

The researchers concede they have no answer “to the question of what might be a particularly healthy coping strategy” for workers who feel they are unfairly treated.

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News release, Stress Research Institute, Stockholm University.

Leineweber, C. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

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