HR Management··8 min read

Dealing With And Reducing Workplace Aggression

Dealing With And Reducing Workplace Aggression

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. If it persists, workplace aggression can not only lead to poor job performance but can actually get you in serious legal trouble.

Today, we investigate the consequences of workplace aggression as well as different ways to prevent it.

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

There are various forms of workplace aggression and as you'll see in a minute, not only physical violence means that something is wrong in your organizational culture.

Types of workplace agression

There are two main forms of workplace aggression.

First, there is overt aggression, which is what most people have in mind when they hear the word "aggression". This is physical violence and damage to property and people.

But there is another form of workplace violence - covert aggression. No physical violence takes place, but there is still a negative impact on the workplace and the coworkers on an individual level. Examples include procrastination, negative comments, being late, making excuses, abusive supervision, and more. This is also known as psychological aggression. 

Which one is worse? Both have an incredibly negative impact on the workplace and the organizational culture. Poor performance, impact on job satisfaction, and employee attrition are just some of these negative effects.

The main difference is that covert behaviors are harder to spot 

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 who can’t receive workers’ compensation can also file a civil lawsuit against the employer because of negligence. And this is on top of the negative impact on job satisfaction.

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. These workplace behaviors can quickly get you labeled as a poor employer and create a negative association with your brand.

In addition, many other incidences of workplace aggression happen seemingly behind the scenes, but their effects are tangible. For instance, employees who 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 who 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 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, microaggression 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 microaggression 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 incidents 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 or another. Whether it’s a client or employee who 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.

It's even more crucial to assess for aggression in leadership roles because abusive leadership can lead to massive effects of workplace aggression in the people they manage.

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 toward reducing aggression at work.

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