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Persistent workplace aggressors can be unpredictable and their aggression can be inconsistent. However, there are certain times when persistent workplace aggressors increase the intensity of their aggression and the risk for organizations and targets increases tremendously. These include when a complaint is made, when accountability is enforced, and when the target resigns. These are all occasions when the aggressor feels challenged and persistent workplace aggression is likely to surge. This knowledge can help organizations be proactive to keep all workers safe, particularly the targets. 

It is important to remember that aggressors are always a threat to targets. However, there is an increased risk for violence when the target makes a complaint about the aggression. During these times, aggressors feels threatened and react accordingly. Leaders should immediately take steps to protect targets once allegations of persistent workplace aggression have been made. 

Persistent workplace aggression will also escalate when organizations intervene and hold the aggressor accountable. This will trigger the aggressor’s need for revenge on the target because they believe they are losing control of the work environment. Not only will the aggressors continue to harm the target but they will also use this opportunity to test leadership. They will push the boundaries to see if they will be held accountable by administration. As such, organizations need to prepare themselves for continued attacks of aggression that most likely will include leadership as well as the target.  

Another high-risk time for organizations is when a target resigns. This intensifies the aggression because the perpetrator now has a time limit to get their target. Therefore, they will inflict as much harm given the time they have left. Aggressors will also use this opportunity to promote fear among others workers. The aggressor is trying to set the stage for the next victim by showing everyone that they are still controlling the workplace using aggression. The aggressor is promoting fear to ensure that the status quo of workplace aggression will continue even after the target leaves. Once a target resigns, organizations can expect more overt and frequent incidences of workplace aggression. It is therefore, vital that leadership continues to hold the aggressor accountable and to set boundaries with them. This is also an opportunity for leadership to intervene and improve the work environment. With effective intervention, leadership can stop the persistent workplace aggression rather than allowing it to continue.   

If you or your organization is experiencing persistent workplace aggression or you need training on this issue, 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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Workplace aggression is a very complex issue. One reason for this is that it is difficult to separate out what is aggression and what is not. Gary and Ruth Namie from the Workplace Bullying Institute (2009, 2016) suggest that leaders who are workplace bullies are not able to differentiate between leadership and bullying behaviors. This is in fact true, but all persistent workplace aggressors fail to distinguish between appropriate professional behaviors and aggressive behaviors. In fact, most workplace aggressors justify their behavior because they view it as professional when it is far from it.

Persistent workplace aggressors disguise their aggression as being professional. This is done to manipulate the work environment and their colleagues. It helps them get away with their bad behavior. For example, a co-worker might continually bring up a topic in a meeting under the auspice of trying to improve the work culture when it is aimed at humiliating or embarrassing the target. 

One isolated incident is not persistent workplace aggression. However, these unprofessional behaviors become persistent workplace aggression when they are done repeatedly with the intent to harm the target. Workplace aggressors will continue to try to camouflage aggressive behavior as professional even though their aggression is done in a purposeful manner to get at the target. 

Aggressive leaders engage in the same type of masquerade. These leaders live under the facade that they are doing a good job in management, when they are, in fact, causing damage to their workers and the environment.   Many workers find it difficult to work under this type of leadership. 

For example, an aggressive leader may call meetings as part of their professional responsibilities, but do it last minute when the target is unlikely to be able to attend. Or, they make unilateral decisions about the target’s work expectations. Again, this is often within their job responsibilities, but the motive behind their decisions may be to harm the target. These behaviors seem professional and in the purview of leadership, but the leader is participating in persistent workplace aggression. 

Aggressive leaders often use their position to hurt targets and harm the overall work environment. These types of leader's role model persistent workplace aggression for their workers endorsing it for everyone and failing to make the workplace safe. Whether they know it or not, they are truly undermining their leadership paving the way for increased hostility.

Organizations with persistent workplace aggressors, both leaders and workers, are supporting and creating a sustainable culture of workplace violence when intervention is not sought out.

If you or the organization you work for is experiencing persistent workplace aggression or need training on this issue, 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.

References

Namie, B. D. (n.d.). Workplace Bullying Institute.  Retrieved November 07, 2016, from http://www.workplacebullying.org/individuals/problem/definition/

Namie, G. & Namie R. (2009). The bully at work: What you can do to stop the hurt and reclaim your dignity on the job. Naperville, IL Sourcebooks, Inc.