Organizations experience numerous consequences when they do not stop persistent workplace aggression. The most tragic outcomes are for targets when organizations fail to intervene. Targets are at continued risk for physical and/or emotional trauma, both personally and professionally, as long as they work in an abusive culture where persistent workplace aggression continues. Some of these workers become a wounded worker.
The wounded worker has experienced years of workplace aggression and desperately longs for justice. They most likely sought out reconciliation on more than one occasion, hoping the organization would take serious action. However, their attempts at intervention have been unsuccessful and actually increased their victimization. The aggression and retaliation intensified and the quality of their work environment decreased. Thus, increasing their trauma from persistent workplace aggression.
The internalized stress that wounded workers experience manifests itself through physical and emotional problems. The connection is not often made between the two because physicians and/or mental health practitioners do not ask the right questions in order to do so. However, most wounded workers have some physical or emotional manifestations directly related to years of abuse.
The wounded worker blurs the line between victim and aggressor by increasing their participation in aggressive behavior. They begin to seek their own form of justice even while they continue to experience workplace abuse. The wounded worker increases their aggressive behavior towards the aggressor, but also includes others at their job. They justify this behavior under the auspice of trying to hold the aggressor accountable and to improve the environment. The wounded worker uses other professionals as pawns to promote their own agenda and may start to use aggression towards other people as well. This is a critical point for the target because they are at extreme risk from transforming into a workplace aggressor. Their disempowerment has left them no other option than to find empowerment through the mistreatment of others.
The wounded worker attempts to survive the workplace aggression by acquiring coping mechanisms that help them avoid or decrease the abuse. Some of these are unhealthy and ultimately harm the target professionally and personally.
Here is a real example from a workplace littered with years of toxicity and abuse. This workplace had multiple aggressors and targets spanning over 15 years. During one meeting, after a heated discussion, one of the workplace aggressors got up and charged around the table at a target. After the meeting was over, the targets talked about what happened. In particular, they discussed how inappropriate it was for the aggressor to use physical intimidation. One of the targets acted shocked. When pressed about their reaction, they admitted that they were not aware that this had even happened and had no recollection of the physical aggression. This target, a victim of persistent workplace aggression for over twelve years, disassociated herself from the aggressive environment in order to cope with the abuse. This wounded worker learned how to separate herself emotionally from the abusive environment so well that she actually was not able to remember an incident of physical intimidation.
It is so important for organizations to intervene immediately and effectively to preserve and protect their workers. If they do not, there will only be more wounded workers among us.
If you or the organization you work for is experiencing persistent workplace aggression or need training on this issue, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or (320) 309-2360. You can also visit my website at www.jankircher.com. Help is out there.