Workplace Fairness, Anger and Retaliation

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Does our perception of workplace fairness affect our performance and overall mental health on the job? That is the question Dr. Isabelle St-Pierre and Dr. Dave Holmes sought to answer in their research, published in the Journal of Advanced Nursing, exploring the effects of perceived injustices in the workplace. Dr. St-Pierre, whose background is rooted in occupational health nursing, describes the motivation behind her work: “I was able to witness first hand the consequences on employees of an unhealthy work environment. For example, I was able to observe what happens when employees perceive they are not treated with respect and dignity, are not part of the decision making process and feel they are victim of injustice”.

According to Dr. St-Pierre’s article, previous research had found a link between aspects of workplace fairness, referred to as organizational justice, and other aspects of job satisfaction, citizenship behavior, and performance. Specifically, she points to the Handbook of Organizational Justice, written in 2005 by Jerrold Greenberg and colleagues, which highlights several different dimensions of organizational justice: distributive justice (a comparison an employee makes between his or her contribution to the workplace and what he or she receives in return from the workplace), procedural justice (an employee’s perceptions of fairness with regard to how decisions are made by employers), and interactional justice (the perception of the employee that he or she is being treated with respect and dignity and being provided with a rationale for how decisions are made).

That being said, just how does organizational justice affect an individual in the workplace, and in particular, what is its relationship to workplace aggression? It turns out that when employers focus on these three dimensions of organizational justice, they may reduce retaliation behavior and aggression among employees. Specifically, the authors point to various factors among nursing staff that contribute to perceived injustices in the workplace: feeling overworked or unsure about responsibilities associated with their position, limited support, limited training, having to manage employees who may display workplace aggression, and having to give negative feedback to employees.

Dr. St-Pierre says that the take-home message of her work is that “there is a strong link between the concept of justice and ethics principles. As such, licensed health care professionals bound by standards of practice and a code of ethic must uphold principles of justice, equity and respect”. On the subject of employee-manager relations, she notes that “For their part, employers must create work environments where such principles are at the core of business so that employees can practice in accordance with the requirements of their profession”.

If you have any questions for Isabelle St-Pierre, she can be reached by email at i.stpierre@sympatico.ca.

By Katie Kordus
Katie Kordus 
is a junior Psychology and Spanish major at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.  She has a minor in Human Development and plans on attending graduate school after graduating in December 0f 2011.

Smell the Roses, Relieve the Rage

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Anger is an emotion that is experienced by everyone and one important aspect of anger is rumination, or dwelling on the negative events that have happened to us. In a recent article published in Aggressive Behavior, a team of researchers discussed one technique that may help decrease rumination: mindfulness. Dr. Ashley Borders, one of the authors of the article, describes mindfulness as, “paying attention to whatever is present right now (whether it be sounds, sights, feelings, and/or thoughts), ideally without judgment or reactive responses.”

But, does mindfulness actually decrease rumination? In order to examine this question, Dr. Borders and her team carried out two studies. In the first study, the researchers worked with a group of undergraduate students who were asked to fill out a number of self-report questionnaires designed to measure mindfulness, rumination, and anger/aggression. The study was then replicated with a group of participants recruited from the general population. The researchers did indeed find that mindfulness decreased anger by reducing the amount of time a person spends ruminating. Additionally, it was found that increased mindfulness was associated with decreased aggression. Dr. Borders suggested several reasons for why this may be. First, actively engaging in mindful behavior is the opposite of ruminating, and thus allows us to take our minds off of past events. Second, mindfulness allows an individual to be more “cognitively flexible,” or more able to shift attention away from negative thoughts. Last, she noted that, “mindful people are less likely to view negative feelings and unpleasant events as scary or unacceptable, whereas people who ruminate tend to fear and avoid negative emotions.”

Whether the reason is one or all of those listed above, Dr. Borders notes that the findings carry implications for both research and clinical practice. Specifically, since the study shows support for the use of mindfulness in decreasing anger, researchers may want to see how it affects other negative emotions. Clinicians may also want to make use of mindfulness training as a supplement to current interventions used in anger management training. In either case, it seems that mindfulness may have a future in helping individuals decrease anger and negativity.

In the mean time, Dr. Borders offers up a piece of advice for those looking to use mindfulness as tool to decrease negative thinking: “One way to feel less angry is to pay attention to what is happening around you right now…pay attention to the sound of cars going by your window or the feeling of your clothes on your skin, or how your stomach rises and falls as you breathe in and out. “ Be patient though, as learning to be mindful takes practice: “It’s like weight-lifting: you need to give your mind time to practice and build up the muscles needed for attentional control.”

Additional information on mindfulness can be found at http://www.mindfulexperience.org/.

By Matthew Machnik
Matthew Machnik is a senior Psychology major at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. He has a minor in Human Development and plans on attending graduate school to earn a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology.

Bullying Leads to More Bullying

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Considering how widespread bullying is in today’s society it is crucial to examine, not only the long-term consequences of bullying, but also how bullying progresses over time. New research in Child Developmenthas discovered additional information on how the cycle of bullying may progress in very young children.  Dr. Jamie Ostrov set out to discover ”if what children receive from their peers (i.e. peer victimization or peer harassment) is associated with what they display to their peers in the future.” Specifically, he looked at both the victims of bullying (i.e., the children who were picked on) and the children who bully or harass to find whether the type of aggression received affected future victim displays of aggression (i.e. would someone who is physically bullied be more likely to show physical aggression, relational aggression, or both).

In his research, Dr. Ostrov sampled more than 100 children between the ages of 3 and 5 and found that children who experienced peer victimization were more likely to become aggressive.  Additionally, Children who had been victims of physical aggression were more likely to become physically aggressive and children who had been victims of relational aggression were more likely to display relational aggression in the future (e.g., taking a toy away, or saying, “You are not my friend”).  According to Dr. Ostrov’s research, the reason that  experiencing a certain type of aggression leads to that type of aggression has to do with social learning in that the children are simply doing what they see.   That social learning can be the result of experiencing the aggression or from simply observing aggression.

Dr. Ostrov also notes that it is important for teachers and administrators to intervene when bullying occurs, as bullying is widespread and can lead to serious psychological and social problems. He suggests that caregivers or teachers help the victimized child focus on coping with the aggression rather than focusing on retaliating against the aggression, which is what often happens. Also observed in Dr. Ostrov’s study was that victims of relational aggression were more likely, not only to be relationally aggressive in the future, but also to face more social rejection.  However, he acknowledges that more research is needed to better understand these relationships and he is continuing his longitudinal research on these long-term effects.

By Tonya Filz
Tonya Filz is a senior Psychology major at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.  She has a minor in Human Development and plans on attending graduate school to earn a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology.