Five Steps to De-escalating Organizational Violence, Bullying and Aggression


People won’t have time for you if you are always angry or complaining. ~Stephen Hawking

Have you ever been sitting at your desk at work and suddenly found yourself on the receiving end of a very angry, loud and/or threatening phone call from a client or your boss. Or one of your co-workers has shown you an abusive or threatening email they just received from a stakeholder?

Or have you ever been in a meeting where one of your work colleagues suddenly stands up, leans over the table and starts yelling, then storms out of the room?

I recall in one organisation I was working in my office when my boss walked in unannounced and asked me to logon to the organisation’s HR system to amend staff information relating to Annie. Annie worked in a team managed by my colleague, Zara. Zara worked in the adjacent office, was at my level, and directly reported to my boss.

I was a bit confused and asked, “Doesn’t Annie work directly to Zara? Can’t Zara do this?” My boss said it was too difficult (WTF??) and after some further discussion, left the chair she was sitting on, stood up and leaned over me and snapped that she just wanted this to happen! I sat back in my chair and asked a few more questions. Frankly, I felt I had no business changing the HR details of a team member working in another section. Despite my concerns, my boss started yelling, then stormed out of my office, loudly saying, “Christ you’re a stupid cow!” and slammed my door. I remember my jacket hanging on the back of the door fell onto the floor. After a few minutes, I quietly got up, re-hanged my jacket, and opened my door. I looked out and met a number of nervous looks from the people sitting directly outside my office.

So what is occupational violence?

What is occupational violence? One legal definition is “repeated examples of organisational violence and aggression.” This includes online and offline workplace bullying.

Occupational violence

Occupational violence is “voluntary behaviour that violates significant organisational norms and in so doing, threatens the well-being of an organisation, its members, or both” (Robinson & Bennet, 1995, p. 556).

Past researchers found occupational violence was more likely to manifest if violence and aggression is organisationally accepted, and normalised (Mayhew, 2007Weatherbee & Kelloway, 2006).

Occupational violence has also been defined as “organisational deviance” or;

“voluntary behaviour that violates significant organisational norms and in so doing threatens the well-being of an organisation, its members, or both” (Robinson & Bennet, 1995, p.556).

Violence continuum

Organisation deviance refers to occupational violence as a “violence continuum.”

In my doctorate research, I found that the workplace “violence continuum” starts at discourtesy, disrespect, and intensifies into interpersonal intimidation.

This behaviour, if not interrupted, escalates into personal aggression such as online/offline harassment, abuse and bullying, which then spirals up into retaliation, including verbal and/or cyber assault, and ends as physical threats and aggression.

Without intervention, violence will always escalate. Always.

Interrupting occupational violence relies on robust reporting and conflict resolution processes that, according to Caponecchia and Wyatt (2011), are only successful when employees feel confident in their organisation’s management authenticity and support in enforcing the resolution process.

(This article contains pictures that could not be added. To view the article with pictures, click here.)

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About felicity

Dr Flis Lawrence, Dip PM, BA SSc, founded Stop Workplace Cyberbullying. Flis brings nearly 25 years of experience across Federal and Territory governments on workforce reform and occupational health and safety policy issues, including 10 years in military intelligence. As Director for intelligence, policy and programs, she identified the organisational and business implications of OHS legislative and policy developments with the social transformative effects of mobile technologies. Prior to her doctorate studies, Flis was senior policy adviser and acting Senior Executive in the Chief Minister and Treasury, and Community Services Directorates in the ACT government. She conducted research and devised policy frameworks supporting whole-of-service workforce reform and strategic performance management. She has also held senior management positions in Federal government, and has worked in the Defence, Industry and Innovation, Education and Workplace Relations, and the Attorney General’s portfolios. She has managed legislative policy for domestic and international intelligence sharing, business innovation and research, and corporate transformation. Flis earned a Doctor of Philosophy in organisational social psychology at Queensland University of Technology. Her research investigated Australian government employees’ perceptions of negative online and offline workplace communications. Workplace cyberbullying (or bullying using technology) was found as prevalent across all strata, perceived differently to offline bullying, and impacted stress levels, job satisfaction, work performance, with implications for corporate culture and workplace health and safety. Flis contributed to the Australian Business Consulting and Solutions’2016 Workplace Social Media Index, was panel member to the Social Media Panel, Sydney, and is a regular contributor to the UK’s Safety and Health Practitioner.
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  1. Pingback: Five Steps to De-escalating Organizational Violence, Bullying and Aggression | Bullying Stories

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