Workplace Aggression and Violence

Workplace aggression is purposeful behavior that is intended to be harmful or destructive to others with whom one works or has worked, or to the organization in which they are presently or were previously employed (O’Leary-Kelly et al., 1996).

Central to the definition of aggression and violence is the intent to cause harm, distinguishing it from workplace deviance Opens in new window or counterproductive work behavior, which are potentially harmful but not necessarily intended by the actor to be so.

The terms workplace aggression and workplace violence are often used interchangeably,

but aggression is generally understood to be the broader construct, reflecting behavior intended to cause harm to another, whereas violence more specifically reflects acts that are intended to cause physical harm (Barling et al., 1987).

Neuman and Baron (1998) argue that aggression has three forms:

  1. overt, which reflects physical acts of aggression,
  2. obstructionism, which are actions designed to impede an individual’s ability to perform their job, and
  3. expressions of hostility, which include verbal or symbolic actions directed at others.

Workplace violence has been studied less frequently than the other forms of aggression (Barling et al., 2001), perhaps due to its relative infrequency and the difficulty in empirically assessing it in the workplace.

Thus, the more frequently occurring construct of non-violent aggression has been the focus of most research (Greenberg & Barling, 1999).

Although aggression can be directed at both the organization and individuals, and some studies have examined aggression directed at different targets, to date, most empirical research has either focused on aggression targeting individual or it has ignored the target altogether (Herchovis et al., 2007).

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    Research data for this work have been adapted from the manual:
  1. The SAGE Handbook of Organizational Behavior: Volume One: Micro Approaches By Julian Barling, Cary L Cooper.