Bullying and discrimination have been linked to several negative outcomes, including burnout and worsened performance. In some cases, toxic work environments can force individuals out and create retention and recruitment gaps.

In the hours following an unfair confrontation, researchers at the University of Washington (UW) have noted a distinct change in victim behaviour.

Researchers recruited 209 first-year UW students from different programs to participate in their study, which took place during the winter and spring of 2018. Students were fitted with Fitbit Flex 2 heart rate pedometers. Fitbit data, along with an app that logged location, activity, screen unlocking events, and phone call length was used to track the user’s behaviour.

Participants were asked to complete short surveys at least twice a week for the duration of the study. During check-ins, they were asked if they had, in the past 24 hours, experienced discrimination due to “ancestry or national origin, gender, sexual orientation, intelligence, major, learning disability, education or income level, age, religion, physical disability, height, weight or other aspects of … physical appearance.”

About 450 discrimination events were logged.

On average, in the 24 hours following unfair treatment, students:

  • Walked 500 more steps; 
  • Made one additional evening phone call;
  • Interacted with their phones five times more than usual; and
  • Spent 15 fewer minutes in bed, when compared to days they did not experience discrimination.

Ancestry or national origin, intelligence, and gender were listed as the top three reasons for experiencing discrimination.

“These results help underscore the deep impacts of discrimination on mental health, and the importance of resources like social support in helping to reduce the impact of discrimination in the long term,” Paula Nurius, a professor in the UW School of Social Work, said in a statement.

Additional information can be found on the UW website.

Discrimination and health

The findings echo previous work linking bias to shortened lifespan and negative health impacts.

In April, researchers published a paper that appeared in ScienceDirect suggesting that racism can stimulate the genes that turn on inflammation, a major driver of several types of disease.

“Although racism may be less overt today than during the early 20th century, government policies and norms, unfair treatment by social institutions, stereotypes, and discriminatory behaviors are sobering reminders that racism is still alive – and contribute to earlier deaths in addition to poorer quality of life,” writes  April Thames of the University of Southern California, a co-author of the ScienceDirect paper.