Why Workplace Mistreatment is Especially Bad for Black Employees

Topic(s): diversity, fairness
Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology
Article: Taking a Heavier Toll? Racial Differences in the Effects of Workplace Mistreatment on Depression
Authors: J.W. Ryu, E. Gonzalez-Mulé, E.H. O’Boyle
Reviewed by: Katherine Facteau

Improving the health and well-being of employees has become an increasingly important concern for organizations. For example, the monetary cost of some mental health problems, such as depression, can cost organizations billions of dollars via absenteeism and turnover. One well-established predictor of depression that organizations can target is workplace mistreatment. New research (Ryu et al., 2024) discovers how workplace mistreatment is experienced differently by Black (versus White) employees, and how it can have a substantial effect on depression and sleep.


The researchers used a large sample of publicly available online data. Months after taking an initial survey, a subset of participants completed a clinical depression questionnaire, while others completed measures of sleep quantity and quality. The researchers found that workplace mistreatment was related to depression and sleep quantity, but only for Black (versus White) people. Notably, Black employees facing mistreatment were projected to get 100 fewer minutes of sleep per night compared to either White people (who were or were not experiencing mistreatment) or other Black people not facing mistreatment.

In the second study, the authors recruited online participants who were instructed to recall an instance where they felt mistreated by a coworker or a boss. They found that Black people were more likely to attribute that mistreatment to their race, something that was an enduring, critical aspect of their identity, which in turn resulted in higher rates of depression. For White people, mistreatment was less likely to be attributed to race and could more easily be “shaken off,” for example, by thinking that the offending person was “just a jerk.”


This study found evidence that mistreatment is experienced differently by Black employees, who may attribute this treatment to their race. These findings are not intended to put the onus on Black employees for being too sensitive, but to inform organizations that mistreatment is experienced within the context of one’s identity. Organizations must strive to create an inclusive workplace for their Black employees. Thus, organizations should find ways to reduce workplace mistreatment, for example, by implementing accountability measures or encouraging bystander intervention.


Ryu, J. W., Gonzalez-Mulé, E., & O’Boyle, E. H. (2024). Taking a heavier toll? Racial differences in the effects of workplace mistreatment on depression. Journal of Applied Psychology, 109(5), 611–621.

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