Although neither type of behavior is acceptable, both sexual harassment (SH) and workplace aggression (WA) occur in many professional organizations. For women, the negative consequences of these transgressions can be profound, including decreased motivation and lower job satisfaction. Many women who are victims of aggression and harassment can also experience psychological problems, including anxiety, depression, anger, and drug and alcohol problems. This puts them at risk for physical consequences such as job-related injuries and general illness. There is a wide range of research looking at how SH and WA, in conjunction with other negative behaviors, affect workplace productivity and personal well-being, but little work has compared the effects of these two behaviors specifically on psychological well-being and job satisfaction.
Angela M. Dionisi of the School of Business at Queen’s University in Canada decided to explore this issue in a recent study. She interviewed 467 female employees, some of whom had experienced victimization by their supervisors. She asked them about their job satisfaction, commitment to job, intent to quit, coworker satisfaction, and overall psychological well-being resulting from the victimization and found that SH appeared to have a larger effect on well-being than WA. “Further,” she said, “we found that some forms of SH exerted significantly greater negative effects on employee outcomes than did corresponding WA forms, whereas in other cases the reverse was true.”
Women who are psychologically harassed could be fearful that physical violence will eventually occur. Withdrawal, avoidance, and other negative consequences can take place when women believe that their harasser or aggressor may do bodily harm. This “fear of rape” could partly explain why SH, even psychological, negatively affected the women more than WA in this study. Results also showed that the majority of women in this study experienced no victimization, which is a positive finding. However, those who did were more likely to experience both SH and WA than one form of victimization alone. Dionisi hopes that future work will address the issues that lead to SH and WA and methods of reducing these negative behaviors in the workplace.
Dionisi, Angela M., Julian Barling, and Kathryne E. Dupre. Revisiting the comparative outcomes of workplace aggression and sexual harassment. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology 17.4 (2012): 398-408. Print.
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