Academic journal article Communication Studies

Understanding the Aggressive Workplace: Development of the Workplace Aggression Tolerance Questionnaire

Academic journal article Communication Studies

Understanding the Aggressive Workplace: Development of the Workplace Aggression Tolerance Questionnaire

Article excerpt

Fueled by mass media stories and statistics from governmental and labor sources, workplace aggression has begun to enter the consciousness of those in and studying organizations. The problem is now recognized as a global concern. The International Labor Organization's workplace violence report to the United Nations confirmed workplace aggression was a problem all around the world, citing significant concerns in France, Argentina, Romania, and Canada (Fisher, 2001; Job, 1998; UN, 1998). Murder and physical assaults dominate the news media coverage of workplace aggression but distort its reality. Most instances of workplace aggression are verbal and passive in nature, such as talking behind someone's back, spreading rumors, or giving someone the silent treatment (Baron & Neuman, 1996; Foran, 2001; Geddes & Baron, 1997; Perry, 2000; Stone, 1995).

Granted, shooting a co-worker is much more severe than spreading a rumor as it inflicts both physical and emotional pain. Rightly workplace violence programs have targeted and reduced the overt physical and verbal forms of workplace violence through their policies and prevention programs (Most effective, 2003). However, all forms of aggression, whether overt or covert, hold psychological ramifications for the targeted employee and productivity implications for the organization. Researchers repeatedly find that the covert (verbal and passive) forms of workplace aggression are prevalent in the workplace and exact a toll on individuals (Johnson & Indvik, 2001; Pearson, Andersson, & Porath, 2000). Efforts to examine and redress workplace aggression must address these verbal and passive variants in addition to current efforts targeting the physical, overt forms.

Communication scholars have been slow to bring their skills to the study of workplace aggression. Although they have examined related constructs such as verbal aggressiveness (Infante & Wigley, 1986) and employee emotional abuse (Lutgen-Sandvik, 2003), they have not focused on workplace aggression directly. One of the largest and most widely publicized research projects involving communicative forms of workplace aggression was conducted by management scholars (Pearson et al., 2000). Although communication researchers have begun to examine emotions and emotional expression in the workplace (e.g., Kramer & Hess, 2002; Waldron, 2000; Waldron & Krone, 1991), scant attention is given to the topic of workplace aggression in the communication literature. Our work on aggression parallels Kreps' (1993) observations about sexual harassment. Kreps observed: "communication is the primary medium through which sexual harassment is expressed; it is the means by which those who are harassed respond to harassment; and it is the primary means by which policies for eliminating sexual harassment in the workplace can be implemented" (p. 1). His words ring true for the relationship between communication and workplace aggression. Most workplace aggression is enacted through communication, communication is a mechanism for responding to workplace aggression, and it is a primary means for delivering policies designed to eliminate workplace aggression. Due to the communicative nature of workplace aggression, it should draw more attention than it has from communication researchers.

Typical workplace aggression polices target the most overt forms such as physical attacks and direct verbal threats (How can, 2003; Prince, 2003; Williams, 2003). Experts argue that focusing on these overt forms of aggression shifts workplace aggression from overt to covert forms (Baron & Neuman, 1996; Bjorkqvist, Osterman, & Hjelt-Back, 1994). Employees simply chose to enact forms of aggression that are not covered in the policies. These covert forms of aggression retain an element of ambiguity that make them difficult to confront. The aggressor can claim he or she did not mean anything by the act or it was misinterpreted. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.