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«UNDERSTANDING EMPLOYEES’ BEHAVIORAL REACTIONS TO AGGRESSION IN ORGANIZATIONS by MARIE S. MITCHELL B.S., George Mason University, 1993 M.A.H.R., ...»

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Trait anger. Hypotheses 4(a) and 4(b) predict similar moderation effects for trait anger such that the positive relationships between perceived supervisor aggression and (H4a) retaliatory aggression and (H4b) displaced aggression (organization, coworker, and customer displaced aggression) such that the relationship will be stronger when trait anger is high than low. The trait anger x perceived supervisor aggression interaction was significantly related to retaliatory aggression. As predicted, Figure 12 shows that the positive relationship between perceived supervisor aggression and retaliatory aggression was stronger when trait anger was high than low. Therefore, Hypothesis 4(a) is supported.

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The results show the trait anger x perceived supervisor aggression interaction was not significantly related to any of the displaced aggression variables. Therefore, Hypothesis 4(b) is not supported.

Hypotheses 4(c) and 4(d) predict similar moderation effects for trait anger such that the positive relationships between perceived supervisor aggression and (H4c) constructive problemsolving and (H4d) withdrawal will be stronger when trait anger is low than high. However, the results show the anger x perceived supervisor aggression interaction was not significantly related to constructive problem-solving or withdrawal. Therefore, Hypotheses 4(c) and 4(d) are not supported.

The need for social approval. Hypotheses 5(a) and 5(b) predict similar moderation effects for need for social approval such that the positive relationships between perceived supervisor aggression and (H5a) constructive problem-solving and (H5b) withdrawal such that the relationship will be stronger when need for social approval is high than low. The results show the need for social approval x perceived supervisor aggression interaction was not significantly related to constructive problem-solving or withdrawal. Therefore, Hypotheses 5(a), and 5(b) are not supported.

Hypotheses 5(c) and 5(d) predict similar moderation effects for need for social approval such that the positive relationships between perceived supervisor aggression and (H5c) retaliatory aggression and (H5d) displaced aggression (organization, coworker, and customer displaced aggression) will be stronger when need for social approval is low than high. The results show the need for social approval x perceived supervisor aggression interaction was not significantly related to retaliation. Therefore, Hypothesis 5(c) was not supported.

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interaction was significantly related to organization and customer displaced aggression, but not to coworker displaced aggression. Figure 13 shows that the relationship between perceived supervisor aggression and organization displaced aggression was negative when need for social approval was low. Contrary to my expectations, high need for social approval did not significantly influence the relationship (t = 1.34, n.s.). Figure 14 shows the relationship between perceived supervisor aggression and customer displaced aggression was positive when need for social approval was low. Although the pattern suggest a negative trend for high need for social approval, the relationship was not significant (t = -1.15, n.s.). Because need for social approval only influenced the relationship between perceived supervisor aggression and customer displaced aggression as predicted, Hypothesis 5(c) is partially supported.

Organization Displaced Aggression

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supervisor aggression. The typology developed suggests reactions can be categorized based on the form (aggression versus non-aggression) and the direction of the behavior (toward the perceived aggressor versus not toward the perceived aggressor). Based on these two dimensions, four categories of reactions were described: retaliatory aggression, displaced aggression, constructive problem-solving, and withdrawal. Drawing from the aggression literature, I then explored which factors influence employees’ reactions. Specifically, I tested the moderating effects of fear of retaliation, aggressive modeling, absolute hierarchical status, trait anger, and the need for social approval. The results provided some support for my predictions, as well as some contradictory findings. I elaborate on these findings in more detail below.

The Influence of Situational Factors on Reactions to Perceived Supervisor Aggression Social psychologists have argued for some time that fear of retaliation influences reactions to perceived aggression (e.g., Bandera, 1983; Dollard et al., 1939). In particular, they contend fear of retaliation inhibits retaliatory reactions because individuals believe that the harmdoer will seek retribution if they aggress against them. The results of this study provide support for these contentions. As predicted, the relationship between perceived supervisor aggression and retaliatory aggression was stronger when fear of retaliation was low than high.

High fear of retaliation weakened retaliatory reactions to supervisor aggression.

Fear of retaliation also moderated the relationship between perceived supervisor aggression and all forms of displaced aggression (organization, coworker and customer), although not as predicted. Contrary to Dollard et al.’s (1939) contentions, high fear of retaliation did not strengthen displaced aggression reactions to perceived supervisor aggression. Instead, it appeared to have the opposite effect. Dollard et al. describe displaced aggression as a cathartic reaction in that when individuals are harmed by another and they fear retaliation from that person, they become highly frustrated. The inability to aggress against the harmdoer causes the victim to redirect or “displace” their frustration on other targets. In this way, displaced aggression allows victims to vent their hostility without fear of recourse from the harmdoer.





However, the results of this study show that the positive relationship between perceived supervisor aggression and displaced aggression was not stronger when fear of retaliation was high than low. Rather, in general, high fear of retaliation negatively influenced the relationship, whereas low fear of retaliation positively influenced the relationship. The pattern of the results suggests that individuals victimized by an aggressive supervisor were less likely to displace aggression when they highly feared retaliation from the supervisor (particularly against the organization and coworkers). However, when fear of retaliation was low, the relationship between perceived supervisor aggression and displaced aggression was positive. As perceptions of supervisor aggression increased, individuals were more likely to displace aggression toward their coworkers and customers.

In hindsight, these results actually make much sense. Individuals who are abused by an aggressive supervisor, who they also fear, may wish to avoid engaging in any behaviors that would instigate more attacks against them. In short, victims might be particularly conscious to manage their own behavior, trying to not give the supervisor reasons to aggress against them further (such as displacing aggression toward the organization, coworkers or customers). These arguments are consistent with the principles of psychological reactance and learned helplessness (Segilman, 1975; Wortman & Brehm, 1975). Accordingly, individuals who are dealing with threatening situations which they believe they cannot change, attempt to regain a sense of personal control by adapting their own behavior (Wortman & Brehm, 1975). Thus, not displacing aggression allows the victim to avoid future attacks from the aggressive supervisor, which may enhance their perceived control over the situation.

Further, engaging in aggression toward others (like coworkers) may also worsen circumstances, particularly when individuals fear retaliation. For example, the stress literature suggests one way individuals cope with threatening and stressful situations (i.e., an abusive and fearful supervisor) is by harnessing social support (see Turner & Roszell, 1994, for a review).

Social support helps victims deal with the stressful situation. Yet, if individuals displace aggression against their coworkers, they most likely would not be able to rely on their coworkers for social support. According to social exchange theory, work relationships are based on reciprocal interactions (Cropanzano & Mitchell, 2005). Good treatment promotes good treatment (i.e., the positive norm of reciprocity); mistreatment promotes mistreatment (i.e., the negative norm of reciprocity) and damages relationships (Gouldner, 1960). Should individuals engage in displaced aggression against coworkers, they may damage valued social support and promote further acts of aggression by coworkers. Thus, in situations where supervisors are highly aggressive and fear of retaliation is high, employees may need as much socioemotional support from others as possible to deal with their working conditions effectively. Consequently, they would not be more likely to aggress against their coworkers.

Fear of retaliation was also predicted to influence the relationship between perceived supervisor aggression and constructive problem-solving. Specifically, I predicted individuals with little fear of retaliation would be more willing to engage in constructive problem-solving in response to supervisor aggression. The findings show, however, that the positive relationship between perceived supervisor aggression and constructive problem-solving was stronger when fear of retaliation was high rather than low. Although levels of constructive problem-solving were similar for high and low fear of retaliation, when perceived supervisor aggression was low, as perceived supervisor aggression increased, constructive problem-solving activities increased, but only when fear of retaliation was high. Therefore, individuals victimized by an aggressive supervisor who they also highly fear, were more likely to engage in constructive problemsolving. The contrary findings seem consistent with research in the stress literature.

Accordingly, in addition to using social support as a method of coping with highly stressful events, individuals may also engage in constructive activities. Constructive coping activities (like constructive problem-solving) allow the individual to try to resolve the problem and, at the same time, effectively cope with the situation at hand (e.g., Folkman & Lazarus, 1985; Thoits, 1994). Thus, as is the case of seeking out social support from coworkers, perhaps individuals who were victimized by an aggressive supervisor (who they also highly feared) felt that constructive problem-solving was a particularly effective way to handle the volatile situation.

Aggressive modeling was predicted to strengthen aggressive reactions to perceived supervisor aggression. The results suggest the source of aggressive modeling is particularly relevant in understanding reactions to supervisor aggression. Specifically, supervisor aggressive modeling did not moderate reactions to supervisor aggression; instead, it seemed to influence retaliatory reactions directly and positively. However, supervisor aggressive modeling did not affect any other reactions to supervisor aggression, which suggests that when supervisors model aggressive behaviors, employees may believe aggressive reactions to supervisor behavior are more appropriate.

Coworker aggressive modeling did significantly moderate reactions to supervisor aggression. The results suggest coworker aggressive modeling strengthened aggressive reactions to perceived supervisor aggression. For example, the positive relationship between perceived supervisor aggression and retaliatory aggression was stronger when coworker aggressive modeling was high than low. Further, the relationship between perceived supervisor aggression and coworker displaced aggression was positive when coworker aggressive modeling was high, but the relationship was negative when coworker aggressive modeling was low. Thus, individuals victimized by an aggressive supervisor were more likely to retaliate against the supervisor and displaced aggression on coworkers when they had more frequent exposure to aggressive coworkers. In contrast, individuals who had less exposure to aggressive coworkers were far less likely to displace aggression on coworkers.

As predicted, the relationship between perceived supervisor aggression and constructive problem-solving was stronger when coworker aggressive modeling was low than high.

Specifically, for high coworker aggressive modeling, the relationship was positive, and for low coworker aggressive modeling the relationship was not significant. Interestingly, for high coworker aggressive modeling, constructive problem-solving remained at relatively high levels over the perceptions of supervisor aggression, and for low coworker aggressive modeling, constructive problem-solving increased to similar levels of that of high coworker aggressive modeling. Therefore, the results suggest that when individuals are dealing with an aggressive supervisor and are frequently exposed to aggressive coworkers, they maintain high levels of constructive problem-solving activities. However, when coworker aggressive modeling is low, as perceptions of supervisor aggression increase, constructive problem-solving activities also increase. Again, these results are consistent with research from the stress literature that suggest that one of the ways individuals cope with highly stressful situations (like being victimized by an aggressive supervisor and exposed to aggressive coworkers) is by engaging in constructive problem-solving activities.

Altogether, these results support principles of social learning theory (Bandera, 1983) and social information processing theory (Salancik Pfeffer &, 1978), which suggests individuals learn which behaviors are appropriate and inappropriate by observing the behavior of others.

Frequent exposure to aggressive coworkers strengthened reactions of retaliatory and coworker displaced aggression to perceived supervisor aggression. Although frequent exposure did not significantly influence constructive problem-solving reactions to perceived supervisor aggression, less exposure strengthened constructive problem-solving reactions to perceived supervisor aggression.



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