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Jan. 3, 2019

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Reducing Workplace Aggression

My research interests can be broadly classified into three overlapping areas: leadership, workplace aggression and emotions. In studying those areas of interest, a recurring theme involves the application of motivational theories to understand when and why employees behave in certain ways. This research fits within my research interests in that I apply a self-control framework to examine the role of mindfulness in curbing employee workplace aggression when feeling hostile.

In recent years, mindfulness became a hot topic in organizations. Organizations are increasingly aware of it, and many firms went as far as adopting expensive mindfulness trainings for their employees. However, mindfulness could be easily dismissed as the newest fad in organizational development, if there are not enough scientific research to show what mindfulness is and how mindfulness is beneficial for organizations. In my work, I want to address implications of mindfulness for organizations. As part of my dissertation that was published in the Academy of Management Journal, I examined the role of leader mindfulness and found that one of the ways that mindfulness benefits the organization is by curbing the dysfunctional leader behaviours in the workplace.

Extending this line of work, in my recent publication in the Journal of Applied Psychology, my colleagues and I sought to empirically disentangle the dimensions of mindfulness, and to examine the process by which mindfulness impacts the association between employee hostility toward a supervisor and subsequent aggression toward that supervisor. Across multiple studies, we distinguished two dimensions of mindfulness – mindful awareness (undivided attention to present moment experience) and mindful acceptance (non-judgmental attitude towards present-moment experience) – and found that it is the awareness rather than the acceptance dimension of mindfulness that plays a critical role in curbing employee workplace aggression. Moreover, we found that the reason why mindful awareness works is because paying attention to present-moment experience facilitates more authentic experience and expression of emotions, thereby making people more effective at curbing their aggressive behaviours. In other words, although employees tend to aggress against their supervisor towards whom they feel hostile, those who are high in mindful awareness (but not mindful acceptance) are less likely to do so because they are better at managing and regulating their emotional experiences.

Given the detrimental effects of workplace aggression for both individuals and organizations, my research findings may have implications for prevention and reduction of aggressive behaviours in organizations. One way to reduce workplace aggression is through training. Our study results suggest that mindful awareness is the more active ingredient in controlling aggressive behaviours stemming from feelings of hostility. Therefore, organizations that wish to reduce the occurrence of workplace aggression may consider devising intervention programs targeted specifically at prompting employees to be more mindfully aware of their hostile emotions at work. In this way, rather than focusing on mindfulness training more broadly, organizations can focus on the key ingredient that has been found to be effective in mitigating workplace aggression.

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