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Leadership is a key component to dealing with persistent workplace aggression.  It takes commitment and skill development to cope effectively with a work environment that is plagued with aggression.  First, leaders need to open their eyes and recognize that persistent workplace aggression is a real issue that could be invading their workplace.  Persistent workplace aggression is increasing and as such, it is vital that leaders educate themselves on this issue now.  Education and training helps leaders develop a clear understanding of the factors that put organizations at risk, such as organizational change or organizational structure.  Knowing these help leaders be proactive in addressing persistent workplace aggression rather than reactive.   

Leadership style, directly and indirectly, influences the work culture.  Leaders, therefore, need to understand how their leadership skills affect their organization, both positively and negatively.  Leadership skills and style can create, enhance, and support a persistent workplace aggressive environment or they can help stop it.  For example, a leader who sends inappropriate emails or allows workers to express poor non-verbal behavior in meetings is setting the stage for aggression to occur.  They are essentially saying that unprofessional behavior is acceptable behavior.  In a workplace, leaders need to role model the behavior they went replicated, provide consequences for poor behavior, and reward good behavior. 

Leaders who are able to deal successfully with persistent workplace aggressive are those we are skilled at both listening and intervention.  This means that when accusations of workplace aggression occur, the leader hears them, takes these claims of aggression seriously, and the leader intervenes to ensure a safe work environment.  This is where many leaders drop the ball because they do not know who to believe or what to do.  Many leaders are caught up in who said what or who to believe rather than focusing on the issue of persistent workplace aggression.

If a leader does not know how to intervene, it is their responsibility to ask for help and figure out the best course of action.  Leaders may need to seek outside consultation on this issue because many organizations and human resource personnel do not know how to intercede effectively.  Leaders must remember that not intervening only enhances the aggression.  Lack of intervention is easier at times for leaders, but ultimately makes the work environment more toxic and increases the aggression.  It also reinforces the actions of the aggressor, encourages bad professional behavior, and makes the leader’s job much more difficult.

Leaders need to remain objective to ensure that they are treating people fairly and equitable.  This type of leaderships creates positive relationships with their workers, but also enhances the relationships amongst workers.  Thus, creating a collegial work environment where persistent workplace aggression is less likely to occur.

If you or someone you know is experiencing persistent workplace aggression, please contact me at jankircher@jankircher.com or (320) 309-2360. You can also visit my website at www.jankircher.com. Help is out there!


 
 
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When I write these insights and strategies about persistent workplace aggression, I try to, typically, come from an objective perspective. However, this post is of utmost importance and relies on my personal experiences.

Over the last fifteen years, I have been both a target and a witness of persistent workplace aggression.  A target is the person that is being victimized in the workplace by the aggressor and a witness is a worker who sees the aggressor  harm the target.  It is difficult to be targeted, but it is also extremely problematic to witness persistent workplace aggression that happens to co-workers, especially those you have developed a strong collegial relationship with.  I sometimes find this more difficult to cope with than actually being the target myself. 

Recently, a colleague experienced a vicious attack by the supervisor.  I wish I could say that this was a one-time deal, but my colleague has suffered years of workplace violence and the supervisor is a classic workplace aggressor.   My colleague is targeted daily and weekly by our supervisor and I frequently witness the abuse. 


The evaluation completed by our supervisor is suppose to be an objective assessment of teaching, scholarship, and service.  Part of the evaluation process includes a synopsis of the faculty's accomplishments documented by supporting artifacts.  (Artifacts are documents that prove what we said we were doing is actually true.)  My colleague received their evaluation with comments submitted by the supervisor.  The supervisor's comments in the evaluation  criticized, condemned, and slandered my colleague because the leader  is an aggressor and has been victimizing my colleague for almost a decade.  The evaluation contained material that was inaccurate, irrelevant to the evaluation process, taken out of context, and a large majority of the information was out and out lies made up by the supervisor.  The artifacts submitted by my colleague actually contradict many of the statements the supervisor made.  This is a typical attack by a workplace aggressor on their target. 

Unfortunately, the evaluation is not an isolated incident.   It is a single event in a workplace that is filled with aggressive and purposeful acts of hate toward my colleague.  It is one piece of the persistent workplace aggressive environment that our supervisor has created and actively works to sustain. 

Not only did the supervisor sign this, but so did the supervisor’s boss.  This aggression was supported by leadership at work because they put their signature on the document and they did not take the time to ensure that the comments made by the supervisor were accurate.  It was just easier for them to sign on the dotted line and support the disparaging evaluation.  The supervisor did not receive any consequence for bringing their personal bias into an evaluation and I suspect they never will.  Please note, that my colleague has received this same type of evaluation since I started.  This one unfortunately was particularly grueling and contained blatant workplace aggression that clearly and unnecessarily hurt my colleague.  It was done on purpose.

Evaluations are effective tools that aggressors use to actively harm their targets.  The evaluation process is even more harmful to the target because leadership does not intervene and the workplace aggressor uses evaluations to push colleagues over the edge towards resignation.

As a bystander of workplace violence, I feel powerless to find actions that will make the workplace better or that will make a difference to my colleague.  I know that this environment has a culture of persistent workplace aggression.  I have consulted with many workers who experience workplace aggression from leadership and have told many that there is little to no hope for change in organizations when this is the case. Unfortunately, the scenario I am describing today seems to be yet another example of leadership sustaining violent cultural standards. Change will only happen when leadership demands accountable, equitability, and fairness.  The workplace is not there yet. 

I am between a rock and a hard place.  No matter what I do, it will not improve the overall culture because there is no accountability or integrity in the environment.  I know that I could and probably should go talk to my supervisor.  I should be able to tell the supervisor that I am uncomfortable with how my colleague is treated and that it would be in all our best interest for the persistent workplace aggression to stop.  I know that the supervisor will not make any change and most likely, the persistent workplace aggression will increase against me and my colleague will also be at risk for retaliation.  (I have tried to talk to the supervisor and have been the target of aggression.)  Just like every other aggressor in the workplace, blaming the target for the behavior is standard operating procedure.  Without any sense of responsibility or integrity, the aggressor will only continue to persecute those they deem as problems and my colleague is at continued risk for harm.


The only thing I can do at this point is be supportive to my colleague.  I am available 24/7 to my colleague.  I can listen and problem solve with my colleague.  For me this just does not seem like enough. 


If you or the organization you work for is experiencing persistent workplace aggression, please contact me at jankircher@jankircher.com or (320) 309-2360. You can also visit my website at www.jankircher.com.  Help is out there.