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Witnessing aggressive behaviour at work damages wellbeing

Witnessing aggressive behaviour at work - including bullying and violence - can have an impact on psychological wellbeing, according to recent research.

The findings underline just how damaging aggressive behaviour in the workplace can be, not only to the victims, but to colleagues who experience it second-hand.

Behaviours studied in research from the University of Sheffield ranged from withholding information and giving unmanageable workloads, to shouting and trading insults, to violence and the threat of violence.

Respondents who had witnessed such behaviours reported increased levels of work-related depression, anxiety and emotional exhaustion.

Limiting the damage

The detrimental effects were alleviated, however, by support from managers or co-workers, and the respondents' own level of 'personal optimism'.

The research found that work-related anxiety was significantly eased by managerial support and personal optimism. Support from colleagues was the best means of limiting emotional exhaustion from witnessing aggression at work.

The report suggests that employers should not only focus on tackling unacceptable behaviour. Interventions designed to enhance optimism, and increase support from colleagues, may be better placed to limit the damage done by aggressive behaviour at work and improve the efficient functioning of organisations where it happens.

Acas publications and services

Acas has published the pdf icon Advice leaflet - Bullying and harassment at work: a guide for managers and employers [172kb], which offers practical advice to help prevent or deal these behaviours at work.

Acas experts can visit your organisation and help you build effective working relationships, including handling bullying, harassment and stress issues. See Workshops, projects and business solutions or call 0300 123 1150 for more information.

Practical training is also available on Bullying and harassment, Discipline and grievance, Handling difficult conversations, Skills for supervisors and Stress.

For free, impartial advice and guidance visit Acas Helpline Online.

Visit the Acas Training Courses, Workshops and Projects area for more information.


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