New research suggests that even just witnessing aggression in the workplace can have a negative effect on individual performance.
Research carried out at Sheffield University investigated the impact of workplace factors on employee levels of depression, anxiety, and emotional exhaustion.
Dr Sprigg and her colleagues first surveyed 127 employees immediately after they had witnessed aggression at work. They then asked the employees to complete another test after a six month interval. The researchers considered aggression as anything ranging from physical violence and abuse through to more indirect forms of bullying, such as withholding information.
The study found that employees who had witnessed aggression but had a support network of co-workers or management were less depressed at the second test six months later. Management support significantly eased work-related anxiety, but the only factor that positively influenced an employee’s emotional exhaustion was support from co-workers.
Dr Sprigg said “Taken together our findings show that social support from managers and co-workers are all important moderators of the effect of witnessing workplace aggression on employees’ psychological wellbeing.”
“Our findings add to the growing body of research linking the witnessing of aggression at work with psychological ill health. They also provide an indication of those individual traits and workplace contextual factors which act as psychological buffers to ill health.”
“This suggests that positive strategies on the part of managers could limit the impact of witnessing unacceptable behaviour.”
The study reinforces certain truisms about workplace dynamics – an employee is going to be more reassured hearing about their performance from their manager rather than a co-worker, for example. However the research should underline how important it is for managers to treat incidents of aggression quickly and professionally.