Workplace aggression should never be a common or tolerated experience. Instead, it’s something that employers should take seriously and nip in the bud before it spreads. Below we look at how to handle workplace aggression and ensure a more positive and safer environment for employees.
What Is Workplace Aggression?
Simply put, workplace aggression encompasses any incident or act that results in verbal, emotional, and physical harm to employees and other people in the workplace. This broad definition also includes violence, which involves physical force.
Overall, workplace aggression is a phenomenon that threatens the safety of your organization’s environment and the well-being of people in that environment, whether it’s employees, employers, clients, visitors, or associates.
Workplace aggression examples include the following behaviors:
- Throwing insults
- Shouting or swearing at someone
- Damaging personal property
- Physical attacks
- Angry outbursts
- Intimidation tactics and threats
The Problem With Aggression In the Workplace
Aggression in the workplace negatively impacts your business in many ways. Some workplace incidents are reported, resulting in the victim filing a workers’ compensation claim. Victims of workplace aggression that can’t receive workers’ compensation can also file a civil lawsuit against the employer because of negligence.
When you add all this up, workplace aggression causes unwanted harm to employees and results in financial loss, costly liability issues, and reputation risk for the organization.
In addition, many other incidences of workplace aggression happen seemingly behind the scenes, but their effects are tangible. For instance, employees that are at the receiving end of aggression can experience physical injuries and psychological injuries, such as anxiety disorder or post-traumatic disorder. This, in turn, affects their work performance and productivity.
The employee may need to take more sick leave or fail to show up for work because they are worried for their safety. Other employees that witnessed the aggression may also be similarly affected. Therefore, the effects of workplace aggression can permeate the entire work environment.
Common Types of Aggression In the Workplace
There are four main types of aggression that can occur in the workplace:
- Physical aggression. This is the most common type of aggression that comes to mind when people refer to workplace aggression. Physical aggression is another term for violence, resulting in bodily harm. Examples of physical aggression include punching, biting, or using a weapon.
- Verbal aggression. This is harm that’s done using words as weapons. Verbal aggression may not lead to injuries, but it results in psychological damage. Examples of verbal aggression include shouting or swearing at someone.
- Emotional aggression. This is aggression that results in emotional harm, for instance, spreading malicious rumors about someone in order to make them feel bad about themselves.
- Mental aggression. Mental aggression can cause mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, and stress.
You’ll find different types of workplace aggression within these categories. For instance, micro aggression in the workplace involves language or behavior that negatively affects a marginalized or stigmatized group of people. Microaggressions may or may not be intentional, but they are so subtle they can become an everyday occurrence. An example of micro aggression in the workplace includes treating someone as inferior because of their skin color, gender, or sexual orientation.
Relational aggression is a type of aggression that can cause emotional and mental harm. Relational aggression in the workplace is indirect and involves bullying someone using relationships. For instance, covert bullying tactics like jokingly making fun of someone or gossiping can damage the victim’s relationship with other people in the same work environment.
Relational aggression is a bit similar to passive aggression. Passive aggression in the workplace is also indirect. A typical example is when someone acts nice and friendly, yet complains about you because they secretly harbor negative feelings.
Causes of Workplace Aggression
Before you can effectively deal with and reduce workplace aggression, it’s essential to understand the reasons behind it:
- Stressful situations. There are many things that can stress employees and trigger aggression. The stressors can be work-related, such as when there’s a company merger and the threat of being fired. Stressors can also be personal, such as when a person is going through a divorce or suffering from grief after the death of a loved one.
- Faulty hiring processes. When a company fails to conduct rigorous background screenings, it may end up hiring the wrong types of employees. Hiring employees with a history of aggression can lead to more incidences of aggression in the office.
- Lack of intervention from management. Aggression can happen unintentionally, but if senior management looks the other way, this can encourage the behavior to continue. Failure to address incidents of aggression in a timely and swift manner leaves the company vulnerable to further incidents of aggression.
- Grudges. Sometimes, aggressors hold a grudge against the company for one reason another. Whether it’s a client or employee that feels slighted, they are motivated to disrupt normal operations to get even.
How to Handle Workplace Aggression
Unfortunately, employers find it very hard to entirely eliminate aggression in the office. However, in the event that an incident occurs, the following approach will help you handle the situation more effectively:
Implement a Zero Tolerance to Aggression Policy
Employers need to have a zero tolerance to aggression policy. This policy should be clearly communicated to every member of the organization and indicate your commitment to keeping the workplace environment safe and positive.
When coming up with a workplace aggression management policy, it’s critical to be as comprehensive as possible. The policy should cover things like threat management, workplace injuries, a reporting process, and other behaviors you expect from employees when they encounter specific acts of aggression.
For instance, your workplace aggression management policy can encourage employees to speak out against and report acts of aggression and take action to stop passive-aggressive behavior. This opens lines of communication and allows you to quickly pinpoint aggressive behavior and nip it in the bud before it poisons your work culture.
Your policy should also outline the consequences of aggression in the workplace, and you should always follow through with those consequences. That way, you’ll prove to employees that management takes workplace aggression seriously and will not budge on their zero-tolerance stance.
How to Reduce Workplace Aggression
Reducing aggression in the workplace involves taking a proactive approach. This requires you to analyze the work environment thoroughly to determine aggression hotspots. You can then figure out which areas to concentrate your efforts on to use resources effectively. There are two main ways to reduce workplace aggression.
Implement Employee Assistance Programs
Employee assistance programs (EAPs) are one of the most effective ways to combat aggression in the workplace. EAPs are employee benefits programs designed to reduce poor performance in the workplace by helping employees cope with personal challenges and work-related stressors.
EAPs are helpful in this regard because they can address workplace conflicts and incidences of aggression. EAP services are typically offered by third-party vendors with trained and qualified EAP counselors, so everything will be confidential.
When employees have access to EAP services, they get the support they need to address issues that make them aggressive, leading to more positive and safer work experiences for all involved.
Provide Workplace Aggression Training
In addition to implementing employee assistance programs, employers should provide training that helps improve employee personal safety in the workplace. As mentioned, workplace aggression includes physical aggression or violence, which can escalate to severe injuries and assault.
Proper training helps reduce such instances by assisting employees in recognizing the precursors of aggression, so they can avoid them or neutralize the situation. Managers and supervisors should encourage employees to alert them as soon as they notice the beginnings of aggressive behavior.
Conduct More Rigorous Pre-Employment Screening
Without rigorous background checks, employees with aggressive traits can slip through the cracks. If you hire a candidate with a history of inciting aggression, chances are they will exhibit the same behavior once they are part of your organization.
Therefore, it’s essential to leave no stone unturned when conducting pre-employment screenings. Make sure that hiring managers use background checks on all candidates and pay close attention to every scrap of information collected. Getting legal advice also helps you perform thorough employee screenings while remaining compliant.
The Bottom Line On Combating Aggression In the Workplace
Due to the harmful effect of aggression in the workplace, it’s crucial for employers to better understand how aggression works to deal with and reduce incidents more effectively. To conclude, the best way to handle aggression is to implement a zero-tolerance policy and train employees to react in a way that diffuses aggressive situations.
In addition, conducting thorough pre-employment screenings and implementing employee assistance programs will go a long way towards reducing aggression at work.