Being a frequent target of workplace aggression can influence workers’ health and prompt them to behave badly towards others, according to research from the University of East Anglia (UEA).
The study, published in the Frontiers in Psychology journal, is said to be the first examination of how frequent mistreatment at work can influence behaviour and induce anger, fear or sadness among employees.
The research focused primarily on the healthcare sector, looking at nurses who were bullied by their co-workers, as well as by patients and patients’ relatives. Researchers asked 855 nurses about their experiences of aggression, negative emotions and health.
They also reported how often they engaged in counterproductive work behaviours, including stealing from their employer, modifying prescriptions without consulting doctors and insulting colleagues.
Dr Roberta Frida from the UEA’s Norwich Business School says the experience of anger and fear associated with being on the receiving end of workplace bullying could have wider implications.
“Our findings show that being a target of aggression represents a frustrating situation in which victims experience anger that may prompt a ‘hot’ and impulsive aggressive response, with a likely impact on the quality of care provided to patients,” says Frida.
“There are consequences, not only for the direct victim, but also for the entire organisational system, in which it is possible to envision the trigger of vicious circles leading to broader and more diffuse forms of workplace aggression.”
While anger and fear triggered misconduct, the study found that sadness primarily influenced health.