Pervasive workplace aggression is an issue which touches everyone in the workplace.  Even though a person may not be the direct target of the aggression, witnesses are still impacted by what is happening.  Witnesses to pervasive workplace aggression tend to fall into different categories in order to cope with their workplace.

Witnesses can be peripherally involved with the aggression.  They know what is happening in their workplace and most often take the roles as the witness.  Occasionally, these witnesses participate in the aggression.  However, this is a random and does not occur frequently.  It is often a fear response to the aggressor and a way in which the witness shows they know who has the power in the workplace.  Witnesses may listen to the target and acknowledge that they know what is happening.  However, refuse to get involved or support the target publicly. 

Witnesses can also be active participants in the aggression.  Witnesses in this category often support the lead of the aggressor.  They typically do not involve themselves with the aggression against the target, but will go along with the aggression when they feel that they have too.  For example, a witness in this category, may verbally assault a target in a meeting where the aggressor is present, but would not verbally assault the target under other circumstances.  They try to stay out of the aggression as much as they possibly can.  These witnesses do not engage with the target, but will with the aggressor because this advantages them. 

Witnesses can also merely be observers to the aggression that is happening in the workplace.  These witnesses do not partake in the aggression, but do nothing to stop the aggression.  Witnesses watch what is happening and take no action for either the target or the aggressor.

There are witnesses who do not engage in the aggression, stand up for the target, and will speak out against the aggressor.  However, this is a rare category for a witness to be in because speaking up against the aggressor puts a mark on the witness.  They put themselves at risk for being in the line of fire of the aggressor.  They could be the next target of persistent workplace aggression.  No witness wants this to happen.

For the witness, each category is an attempt to deal with what is happening and to maintain their own status in their workplace.  No matter which category a witness falls in, the choices they make directly influence the aggressor, the target, and the overall functioning of the workplace.

 
 
Organizational leaders and administrators are frequently unaware that there organization is experiencing persistent workplace aggression.  Organizations are predisposed to dealing with personnel issues on an individual basis rather than looking at them collectively.  This tends to be the easiest path to take in organizations.  However, this road does not lead to resolution but continues to allow persistent workplace aggression to occur.  Thus, the organization suffers in all areas.

The first strategy for organizations is to take claims about persistent workplace aggression seriously.  Taking the issue seriously seems like it should be a logical and rational approach that an organization takes.  However, this is regularly not the case.  Organizations, more often than not, tend to dismiss assertions about workplace aggression and only address the peripheral behaviors.  These, unfortunately, are repeatedly aimed at the target rather than the aggressor(s).

Organizations have a responsibility to examine assertions about persistent workplace aggression and should not brush allegations under the carpet.  This tends to be a victim blaming approach which exacerbates the issue.  Organizations need to review documentation that is provided from an objective lens, leaving their likes and dislikes about their employees aside.  Organizations should identify patterns and themes that documentation provides.  This will help get a better understanding of what is happening and will offer organizations a starting point so they can eliminate persistent workplace aggression.  Acknowledgement that the organization may be experiencing persistent workplace aggression is the first step in stopping it from happening.   

For more information, please contact me at jankircher@jankircher.com