The most feared form of workplace aggression is physical violence. But every episode of violence has a history. Violent physical or sexual assault in the workplace always emerges within a context and can usually be traced to various kinds of less appreciated forms of violence that may occur routinely within an organization. Dirty looks, defacing property, stealing, hiding needed resources, interrupting others, obscene gestures, cursing, yelling, threats, insults, sarcasm, the silent treatment, “damning with faint praise”, arbitrary and capricious decisions, ignoring input, unfair performance evaluations, showing up late for meetings, causing others to delay actions, spreading rumors, back-stabbing, belittling, failing to transmit information, failing to deny false rumors, failing to warn of potential danger – all of these actions on the part of management, staff and clients are forms of aggression which can terminate in the emergence of physical violence .
Stressful times are difficult for employees and as interpersonal conflict increases, it is likely that workers will express their anger, frustration and resentment in a variety of ways that have a negative effect on work performance. Frequently, bureaucracy is substituted for participatory agreement on necessary changes, and the more an organization grows in size and complexity, the more likely this is to happen . Research has demonstrated that the lower performance gets, the more punitive leaders become and that very possibly just when leaders need to be instituting positive reinforcing behaviors to promote positive change, they instead become increasingly punitive .
A sure sign of an increase in aggression in the workplace is an escalation of vicious gossip and unsubstantiated rumor. Research shows that 70% of all organizational communication comes through this system of informal communication and several national surveys found that employees used the grapevine as a communication source more than any other vehicle . Not only that, but the grapevine has been shown to communicate information far more rapidly than formal systems of communication. Rumors fill in the gap where facts are absent and the grapevine may become poisoned by unsubstantiated rumor and gossip. All of this lends itself to the promotion of a toxic environment.
Excerpt from Bloom, S. L. (2010). Trauma-organized systems and parallel process. In N. Tehrani (Ed.), Managing Trauma in the Workplace (pp. 139-153). London: Routledge.
For more see: Bloom and Farragher, Destroying Sanctuary: The Crisis in Human Service Delivery Systems
- Spector, P.E., The role of frustration in antisocial behavior at work, in Giacalone, R. A. and J. Greenberg (1997). Antisocial Behavior in Organizations, R.A. Giacalone and J. Greenberg, Editors. 1997, Sage Publications: Thousand Oaks, CA. p. 1-17.
- Huberman, J., Discipline without punishment. Harvard Business Review, 1964. 42(4): p. 62-68.
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- Crampton, S.M., J.W. Hodge, and J.M. Mishra, The informal communication network: Factors influencing grapevine activity. Public Personnel Management, 1998. 27(4): p. 569.