Many experts in this area direct targets and bystanders to speak out in every case where persistent workplace aggression is happening. Their logic is that making administration aware of this issue will help improve the work environment. Ideally, I would like to offer the same suggestion, but because of the complexity of this issue, I suggest that reporting is not always the best option.
Persistent workplace aggression is not such a cut and dry issue. It is extremely complicated. As such, targets and bystanders need to think through and explore all of the possible outcomes before they make a decision about reporting. They should seek consultation both in and out of the organization. This will help ensure that they are prepared to deal with all the effects of their decision.
Reporting an aggressor can in fact improve the overall work setting, particularly if administration is not aware that workplace aggression is happening. This, then, provides the organization with an opportunity to intervene on and enhance the work culture.
However, reporting an aggressor(s) can make the work setting even worse than it already is for targets and bystanders. Once an aggressor is identified, they often partake in more aggression and retaliation, which occurs both covertly and overtly. As such, targets and bystanders need to consider several factors in their decision making process. Some of these are as follows:
One of the first questions to consider is has administration been alerted to the aggression before? If so, how many times? What has been the response to these reports, if any? The likelihood that administration will take complaints seriously about persistent workplace aggression if they are already aware of it is very slim. Administration may listen to the report. However, if they have previous knowledge of it is most likely they are deciding not to intervene in the work environment. The target and bystander put themselves at risk for aggression and retaliation.
Another factor to evaluate is the relationship between the aggressor(s) and administration. Often times the aggressor works at building strong relationships with administration. If this has been successful, administration tends to believe the aggressor. It is most likely that the aggressor has reported their version of what is happening in the workplace, which includes badmouthing the target and/or bystanders. Therefore, the aggressor has credibility with administration.
Targets and bystanders need to assess their relationship with administration. The aggressor has conveyed information to administration about them. This information may or may not be factual. Administration may already be under the impression that they are “trouble makers.” Administration may view the target and/or bystander as unreliable and this could affect how serious they take the allegations. The allegations may immediately be discounted based on administration's views of the target and/or bystander.
There are consequences when aggression is reported. Targets and bystanders need to be prepared for these. Retaliation and additional aggression by administration and/or the aggressor(s) can occur after reports are made. Administration may or may not respond to the allegations. Targets and bystanders vest in the idea that administration is the necessary change agent for the persistent workplace aggressive environment. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Targets and bystanders need to ensure that they can manage with the consequences no matter what they are. If they decide to report, they need to be prepared for both positive and/or negative outcomes.
Reporting persistent workplace aggression is very important. Targets and bystanders need to consciously assess the advantages and disadvantages of doing so and their decision is ultimately should focus on what is in their best interest. They decide whether to make the report or not.