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by KELLY GRIFFIN | March 10, 2009


Ensuring the safety of all employees and maintaining a positive work environment are two issues of paramount importance to HR professionals and corporate management. As an HR professional, you have probably been concerned with negative behaviors on the part of some employees such as yelling, arguing, bullying, or generally causing disruption in their work areas.

The negative behaviors are outward signs of feelings of hostility. Hostility is defined as "negative beliefs about and attitudes toward others, including cynicism and mistrust," according to the Research Network on Socioeconomic Status and Health. Hostility, as well as being a safety risk, can also be a serious health risk to employees harboring such feelings.

The hostility research findings. Study results published late last year in the Health Psychology Journal of the American Psychological Association show that hostility may, as an "independent influence," increase the risk of coronary heart disease (CHD) for older workers.

The study, "Hostility, the Metabolic Syndrome and Incident of Coronary Heart Disease," conducted by Raymond Niaura, Ph.D., lead researcher, and his colleagues, is based on a sample of men from a longitudinal research study called the "Normative Aging Study (NAS)" to determine whether hostility could be an independent influence or contributing factor in traditional CHD.

The "Hostility" study followed men who were 21 to 80 years of age when enrolled in the NAS between 1961 and 1970, had a high school education, and had no medical conditions at the time of enrollment. Their health has been tracked ever since with regular medical check-ups and new hostility-level measurements over time.

Many studies in the past have documented associations between hostility and other factors leading to increased risk for CHD through hostilitys potential effects on one or more health risk variables. An example of this is that hostile feelings can increase blood pressure for those susceptible to it, and high blood pressure is a risk factor for the onset of CHD.

The study led by Niaura, however, is the first that has found a direct and independent correlation between hostility and risk of CHD. "[O]lder men with the highest levels of hostility were at the greatest risk for developing CHD, independent of the effects of fasting insulin, BMI [body measurement index], WHR [weight-hip ratio], triglcyride levels, and blood pressure," state the studys authors. This means that individuals without physiological factors that contribute to CHD but with feelings of hostility are most susceptible to CHD.

Note: The authors carefully point out that the findings may not translate to an entire population. The majority of the study participants were Caucasian, and they were all male.

The role of HR. For HR professionals, the study results point out that not only must you be concerned about keeping your workplace safe when employees are exhibiting negative behaviors, you should also be concerned about the hostile employees health.

If your HR department does not have programs in place to identify employee concerns and frustrations and find ways to reduce them, this is one area on which to focus resources. If your HR department or Employee Assistance Program does not provide stress or anger management programs, you may want to think about adding those to your list of mandatory employee training sessions. In addition, you may want to consider adding training and skills development in the areas of decision-making, consensus building, and negotiation.

The more empowered people feel, the more invested they are in their work and the less likely they are to harbor anger, hostility, and resentment toward others. Your workplace will be safer and the health of your employees may be positively impacted.


Filed Under: Workplace Issues