Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

Workplace Aggression-The Iceberg beneath the Tip of Workplace Violence: Evidence of Its Forms, Frequency, and Targets

Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

Workplace Aggression-The Iceberg beneath the Tip of Workplace Violence: Evidence of Its Forms, Frequency, and Targets

Article excerpt


This study investigates three hypotheses with respect to workplace aggression--behaviors performed by individuals in order to harm others with whom they work or previously worked: (1) contrary to many media reports, most aggression occurring at work setting does not involve direct, physical assaults; rather, it more typically encompasses relatively subtle (ie., covert) forms of harm-doing behavior; (2) recent changes in many organizations (e.g., downsizing, increased workforce diversity) have generated_conditions that tend to increase the incidence of workplace aggression; (3) workplace aggression is perceived as occurring primarily in a downward direction within organizations so that individuals report being the victim of aggression from supervisors more often than they report aggressing against such targets while the opposite is true with respect to subordinates.

A survey of 452 employed persons provided relatively clear support for hypotheses 1 and 2. However, contrary to hypothesis 3, participants reported that they were more frequently the victim than the perpetrator of workplace aggression with respect to subordinates as well as supervisors.


Corpus Christi, Texas--A former employee opened fire Monday at a refinery inspection company, killing the owner, his wife, and three workers before fatally shooting himself ... "When we arrived we learned ... that a disgruntled employee walked in and started shooting ..." said Assistant Police Chief Ken Bung (Associated Press, July 12, 1995).1

Evandale, Ohio--A fired truck driver who was going after "the one that screwed me over" walked into his former employer's office Friday and shot three people to death, then calmly waited to be arrested, police said.

Newark, New Jersey--An ex-postal employee has confessed to slaughtering two of his former colleagues and two customers inside a Montclair, N.J. post office during a robbery for rent money, officials charged ... "He ordered them to lie down and he just shot them," said New Jersey U.S. Attorney Ruth Hochberg (Newsletter, March 23, 1995).

Incidence such as these have recently been the focus of a tremendous amount of media attention and, at first glance, this attention appears to be fully justified. Each week, an average of fifteen people are murdered at work in the United States alone, a total of more than 7,600 during the past ten years (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, 1993). During 1992, the last year for which complete data are currently available, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 1,004 employees were murdered on the job--a rate more than one-third higher than the annual average during the 1980s. In fact, homicide is currently the second leading cause of death in the workplace, with transportation accidents being the leading cause (Rigdon, 1994). Further, it has been suggested that workplace homicide is the fastest growing form of murder in the United States (Filipczak, 1993).

Taken at face value, these statistics seem to suggest that current public concern with workplace violence is fully appropriate. Closer examination of existing data on the occurrence of workplace violence, however, points to somewhat different conclusions. First, a large majority of such violence occurs in connection with the robberies and related crimes (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1994). In other words, contrary to popular belief, most workplace violence does not involve instances such as those described above, in which angry employees suddenly open fire on co-workers or supervisors. Rather, it occurs when individuals are attacked by persons from outside their workplace who have entered it for criminal purposes.

Second, recent surveys indicate that, while many individuals report that they have experienced harassment from others at work--actions that create a hostile work environment but do not results in physical harm--much smaller proportions (approximately 7% and 3%, respectively, report that they have been threatened with physical harm or actually experienced such events (Northwestern National Life Insurance Company, 1993). …

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