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Workplace aggression may be cyclical, study of nurses shows

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Norwich, England — Frequent victims of workplace aggression and bullying may experience adverse health effects and, in turn, behave cruelly toward others, according to a new study from the University of East Anglia.

Researchers surveyed 855 nurses about their experiences with aggression, negative emotions and health symptoms. The nurses also shared how often they engaged in counterproductive work behaviors such as insulting colleagues and stealing from employers.

Targeted workplace aggression is a particular concern in the health care field, the researchers said.

Findings showed that nurses who were targets of workplace bullying may channel their anger and fear into misconduct while potentially neglecting professional and ethical decorum.

“This research provides the first evidence of fear being an important discrete emotion associated with misconduct through moral disengagement,” Roberta Fida, lead author and lecturer in organizational behavior at the University of East Anglia’s Norwich Business School, said in a press release. “Since individuals experiencing fear are more alert and attentive to picking up potential external threats, and tend to perceive the environment as highly dangerous and threatening, they are more likely to engage in any form of behavior, including aggression, which may potentially help them to defend themselves and comply with their need for protection.”

The researchers recommend focusing workplace training on emotional specifics and anticipating the range of behavioral responses. In addition, employers should design and enact interventions that sustain an ethical workplace culture.

The study was published online May 11 in the journal Frontiers in Psychology.

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