Fighting workplace aggression

Fighting workplace aggression

Caitlin Demsky, Ph.D. in a red jacket in an office
Caitlin Demsky, Ph.D., assistant professor, management, studies the impact of workplace aggression.

Workplace aggression, whether physical or psychological, is making employees stressed, sick and unhappy. It’s also spilling over into personal lives, creating work-family conflicts.

The number of individuals who harm coworkers is on the rise. A 2006 national survey estimates 41 percent of U.S. employees experience some form of psychological aggression at work in a 12-month span. A 2010 study pegged it as high as 96 percent.

Oakland University assistant professor of management Caitlin Demsky, Ph.D., tuned into this problem as she heard an increasing number of people venting frustrations about work.

“They weren’t complaining about the work itself, because they enjoy what they do. It was the negative interactions that was really affecting them,” Dr. Demsky says. “Picking that up as a common thread set off a light bulb and made me wonder why this is happening and what we can do to minimize it.”

Key Takeaways

Workplace aggression and incivility lead to higher rates of work-family conflict, physical ailments and worse sleep quality. 

Employees should intentionally engage in recovery from work to minimize the impact of incivility, whether that is detaching, relaxing or pursuing a hobby outside of work. 

Supervisors who integrate family-supportive behaviors into their leadership style can help create a more positive workplace culture. 

Dr. Demsky conducted studies on employees at universities across the nation, two psychiatric hospitals, the U.S. Forest Service and at a Fortune 500 company. She discovered that employees and employers could take steps to negate the effects of workplace aggression. 

Workers who psychologically detach from incivility in the workplace succeed at separating themselves from their workday stress when they arrive home. That helps avoid health ailments, sleep deprivation and work-family drama that percolates from job stress.

It also reenergizes the employee between shifts, leading to a more productive, creative workforce.

Employers who integrate family-supportive supervisor behaviors (FSSB) into their leadership style, including adopting relevant policies and training to address employees’ work-life balance needs, can create a more positive workplace culture.

“It may be as simple as modeling in the office that it’s acceptable to leave early to attend your child’s soccer games or a doctor’s appointment,” Dr. Demsky says. “FSSB is about helping team members achieve balance between life inside and outside of the workplace.”

Using detachment and FSSB are two keys to creating a more inviting work atmosphere with happier employees, leading to enhanced productivity and customer service, Dr. Demsky says.

Dr. Caitlin Demsky is an assistant professor of management in Oakland University’s School of Business Administration. She has a background in industrial and organizational psychology with a concentration on occupational health psychology. She has secured nearly $180,000 in four years to fund studies ranging from incivility in the workplace to recovery from work demands. She received both her graduate degrees from Portland State University and her bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University. She teaches undergraduate Introduction to Organizational Behavior and Introduction to Human Resource Management. She also serves as adviser to the OU’s student chapter of the Society for Human Resource Management.

Journal of Business and Psychology
Yragui, N. L., Demsky, C. A., Hammer, L. B., Van Dyck, S., & Neradilek, M. B. 
(2016). Linking workplace aggression to employee well-being and work: The moderating role of family-supportive supervisor behaviors (FSSB). 1-18. 

Journal of Occupational Health Psychology
Demsky, C. A., Ellis, A. M., & Fritz, C. (2014). Shrugging it off: Does psychological detachment mediate the relationship between workplace aggression and work-family conflict? 195-205.