Beyond Sexual Harassment: The Importance of Considering Workplace Aggression (IO Psychology)
Topic: Employee Satisfaction, Sexual Harassment
Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology (SEP 2010)
Article: Comparing Victim Attributions and Outcomes for Workplace Aggression and Sexual Harassment
Authors: Hershcovis, M. S., & Barling, J.
Reviewed By: Thaddeus Rada
Sexual harassment is a common, negative component of organizational life that has received a good deal of research attention in IO psychology in recent years. However, while understanding this phenomenon is undoubtedly important, there remain other forms of organizational misconduct that can also have a substantial negative impact on organizations and their employees. One of these forms of misconduct is workplace aggression, defined by the authors of the current articles as “nonviolent negative acts perpetrated against organizational members, which organizational members are motivated to avoid” (p. 875). There are several characteristics that sexual harassment and workplace aggression share, but workplace aggression is unique in that it is likely to be experienced, by both men and women, as an attack based not on a particular group affiliation (i.e. gender, race, religion, etc.), but rather, on them personally as an individual.
Hershcovis and Barling conducted two studies that evaluated how reactions to sexual harassment and workplace aggression differ. First, the authors conducted a lab experiment, which revealed that participants made stronger internal attributions (among other attributions) after reading a hypothetical scenario in which they were the target of workplace aggression, relative to participants who read a scenario in which they were the target of sexual harassment. Second, the authors conducted a meta-analysis assessing the role that workplace aggression and sexual harassment each have on a number of organizational outcomes, such as job satisfaction and turnover intentions. Here, the authors found that workplace aggression was more strongly correlated than sexual harassment with a number of outcomes, suggesting that workplace aggression may play a stronger role in influencing these outcomes than sexual harassment does.
As the authors of the article point out, a lab experiment with a relatively small sample size was utilized in the first study; as such, the current findings should be treated as tentative, and studies should be conducted in the field to see if similar results are obtained in a more natural environment. However, the results obtained by Hershcovis and Barling hold promise for improving our understanding of the impact that workplace aggression can have on employees. Although sexual harassment has received more legislative and legal attention to this point, it may be the case that workplace aggression is just as damaging, and therefore worthy of additional attention from organizational stakeholders.
human resource management, organizational industrial psychology, organizational management
How Employees Really Feel about Workplace Romances
Topic: Organizational Justice, Sexual Harassment
Publication: Journal of Business and Psychology (DEC 2009)
Article: Workplace romance: A justice perspective
Authors: N. Cole
Reviewed By: Benjamin Granger
Workplace Romances(WRs) are a fact of life. Some statistics suggest that as many as 40% of employees report having had a WR at some point in their careers. Though organizations are often concerned about the potential performance and legal ramifications of in-house WRs, general attitudes toward WRs appear to be changing; employees are much less secretive about WRs than they have been in the past.
Cole (2009) interviewed 100 employees who reported witnessing a WR in their workplace. In general, study participants reported that the fairest managerial action was to treat WRs as inevitable and take little or no action against the employees. However, managerial action was considered fair if the WRs have a negative impact on the work environment and/or job performance. In fact, under these conditions, coworkers may find too little managerial action unfair.
Additionally, employees find managerial action against WRs fair when the parties work in the same department and when the organization has a formal written WR policy. Although positive effects of WRs are sometimes discussed in the literature, Cole notes that none of the participants mentioned potential positive effects of WRs. When participants discussed effects on performance and the work environment, they were always negative. Thus, if positive outcomes are present, coworkers may not perceive them.
Although organizations may have little control over the existence of WRs, Cole’s results highlight the importance of having formal, written WR policies. Surprisingly, most organizations do not have written WR policies, but probably should (see review of Pierce & Aguinis, 2009 for WR policy recommendations). Written policies legitimize managerial action in response to WRs and improve coworker perceptions of such action. Overall, employees seem accepting of WRs, so long as they do not negatively impact the work environment or performance.
Love is in the Air… Recommendations for Managing Workplace Romances
Topic: Sexual Harassment, HR Policy
Publication: Human Resource Management (MAY/JUN 2009)
Article: Moving beyond a legal-centric approach to managing workplace romances: Organizationally sensible recommendations for HR leaders
Authors: C.A. Pierce, H. Aquinis
Reviewed By: Benjamin Granger
Although work is not the most romantic of places, (“I just love the way you handle those memos”) workplace romances are very common. But because workplace romances can lead to potential problems for the organization, (e.g., sexual harassment lawsuits) many companies take a legal-based approach to managing workplace romances (e.g., discouraging them, make employees sign legal documents, etc.).
In opposition to this trend, Pierce and Aguinis (2009) argue that this approach is much too narrow and neglects the possibility that workplace romances can be beneficial in some cases.
In their recent paper outlining research-based recommendations for managing workplace romances, Pierce and Aguinis argue that a sensible, broad approach to managing workplace romance can minimize the negatives and maximize the positives. A few of their recommendations include:
1. Develop and enforce a written workplace romance policy. It is important that this policy be created within the already established codes of ethical conduct (which differs among organizations).
2. “Prohibit direct-reporting, supervisor-subordinate romances.” This can reduce the potential for favoritism, exploitation, and quid pro quo sexual harassment (e.g., a date for a raise!).
3. Permit romances between power-balanced employees and employees who “have an indirect-reporting, hierarchical relationship.”
4. Continuously monitor workplace romances to find out if they relate to important individual and organizational outcomes (e.g., job satisfaction, commitment, job performance).
5. Train HR leaders to (1) counsel employees engaged in workplace romances and (2) respond appropriately to harassment complaints.
In conclusion, Pierce and Aguinis suggest that a strictly legal approach to workplace romances is too narrow and should be broadened to address the many potential advantages and disadvantages. Their research-based recommendations can help organizations minimize the risks and maximize the benefits of workplace romances.
Pierce, C.A. & Aguinis, H. (2009). Moving beyond a legal-centric approach to managing workplace romances: Organizationally sensible recommendations for HR leaders. Human Resource Management, 48(3), 447-464.
Identifying the Roots of Sexual Harassment
Topic: Organizational Justice,Sexual Harassment, Workplace Deviance
Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology
Article: Organization justice and men’s likelihood to sexually harass: The moderating role of sexism and personality.
Author: F. Krings, S. Facchin
Featured by: Benjamin Granger
Researchers Krings and Facchin (2009) set out to uncover the reasons why men engage in sexual harassment at work. The authors hypothesized that certain personality traits make some men more likely to engage in sexual harassment, but that sexual harassment might also depend on certain organizational factors.
Krings and Facchin found that men reported being more likely to engage in sexual harassment when they perceived low interactional justice (feel that they are not treated fairly by their supervisors). Overall, this finding suggests that sexual harassment is more likely following unfair interpersonal treatment.
However, as expected by the authors, individual personality factors also played an important role in the sexual harassment process. Specifically, perceptions of low interactional justice were more strongly related to sexual harassment when men were low in agreeableness (not very oriented toward interpersonal relationships) and high in hostile sexism (general antipathy toward women).
Important note: To measure sexual harassment, Krings and Facchin utilized the Likelihood of Sexual Harassment (LSH) scale, which specifically measures the likelihood of engaging in certain behaviors, not the actual occurrence of sexual harassment.
So what can we take from this research?
Although organizations often have minimal control over the personality factors of its employees (unless the organization specifically selects employees based on the personality factors of interest), organizations CAN more readily affect their employees’ perceptions of interactional justice. Generally, when employees feel that they are treated unfairly, they are more likely to subsequently “get back” (engage in deviant behaviors, including sexual harassment) at the organization or organizational members to “even the score.” By placing a heavy focus on fairness, organizations can nip deviant behaviors such as sexual harassment in the bud.