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.


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.



12/08/2016 5:19am

I don't believe that workplace aggressors behavior is professional. Well, in some cases but it depends on the behavior itself. If it is below the belt, I'm sure that it is not professionalism. You can do a professional way without offending your staff. I know that the reason behind this is to motivate others but it's the behavior and attitude that comes first.

06/19/2017 7:02pm

Being aggressive is not always a negative behavior. It also entails that someone is so persevere to achieve something. This kind of behavior can be used to succeed in life. On the other hand, if an institution have a circle of staffs who acquire the same behavior, it can make the workplace environment a sustainable one! But we have to remember the limitation of this aggressiveness.

02/01/2017 2:52pm

They are terribly wrong about their behavior. You are totally right about it.


Workplace aggression is really unprofessional. This could bring uneasiness and strange environment in the company, especially on the employees. They should treat everyone fairly and never let aggression takes place. If this becomes habit this could destroy the work environment. I am glad that the company i am working don't have workplace aggression. We have a peaceful and friendly workplace. I hope that this workplace aggression should be discontinued.


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