Stefanie Fox, M.S., Portland State University; Katharine McMahon, M.S., Portland State University; Liu-Qin Yang, PhD, Portland State University
Purpose/objectives: The current work conducts a high-level review of workplace mistreatment literature. To gain a more thorough understanding of the state of research, we focus on the similarities and differences between different forms of mistreatment (e.g., incivility, bullying) regarding theoretical backgrounds, influential factors and boundary conditions(e.g., moderators), and methodology. Furthermore, we identify potential avenues for future research directions across mistreatment forms.
Background: Worker experiences of mistreatment are surprisingly common across industries (e.g., nurses are the targets of violence and aggression, workers in IT and financial settings experience cyber incivility and cyber bullying; D’Cruz et al., 2013; Lim & Teo, 2009; McMahon et al., 2020; Morphet et al., 2018). The wide range of mistreatment types has produced a prolific body of literature which prompted the examination of construct overlap between forms of mistreatment (e.g., incivility, bullying, and abusive supervision; see Hershcovis, 2011) and meta-analytic and qualitative reviews to explain varied influences and outcomes related to specific forms of mistreatment (see Hershcovis et al., 2007; Robinson et al., 2013; Salin, 2003). The existent body of reviews provides points of clarity in a richly complex area of research, and the current examination on a secondary level provides potential to identify concerns across multiple research streams (e.g., reliance on cross-sectional studies) and unique to specific forms of mistreatment (e.g., differences in cyberbullying and face-to-face bullying; Privitera et al., 2009). The current work addresses these commonalities and unique concerns by providing a review of the existing literature and identifying a holistic framework of workplace aggression, including both immediate factors surrounding mistreatment and lenses through which the phenomena can be examined. The current work is part of an invited chapter for the third edition Handbook of Occupational Health Psychology (Yang, Fox, McMahon, in progress).
Methods: In order to provide a higher-level examination of the state of research, 31 meta-analyses, qualitative reviews, book chapters, and recent empirical publications from top-tier journals containing data from over 1000 studies were examined. This combination of information sources allowed for an examination of mistreatment in general and by specific type. All resources were coded to identify theoretical framework, mistreatment factors (e.g., type, source, influence, and outcome), methodology, and perspective (e.g., target, perpetrator, or witness). Additionally, individual mistreatment factor variables were sorted into second-order categories (e.g., outcome categories include attitudinal, behavioral, health/well-being) to facilitate identification of common and unique patterns among mistreatment types. Finally, all coded information was utilized to create a conceptual framework representing the current state of workplace mistreatment research (see Figure 1). Thus far, we have collected all pertinent publications, and are in the process of coding them.
Findings: The resulting framework indicates that mistreatment occurs across four levels of consideration and may be viewed with multiple lenses. The first two levels indicate the type and source of aggression. The third level addresses influences of aggression, including antecedents, mediators, and moderators. The final level addresses the outcomes of aggression. Operationalizations and relationships among the levels vary according to the lens used.
Discussion: Overall, the current review contributes to the mistreatment literature by providing a holistic view of the state of workplace mistreatment research, identifies common and unique influences and outcomes of mistreatment, and provides integrative perspectives for further examination of mistreatment. These findings build upon previous reviews by further identifying common perspectives, methodologies, and study designs. Additionally, the second-level categories of influences and outcomes of mistreatment may be practically useful for organizations when examining relationships and desired outcomes for workers. Though the review includes information from 31 publications, this may also be a limitation, as we may miss potential unpublished work that fits our scope of review. Additionally, utilizing mostly reviews and meta-analyses for content naturally sacrifices granularity of information; however, we feel the breadth provided offers plentiful compensation.
Conclusion: Constantly across forms of mistreatment, the current review identifies prevalence of target perspectives, cross-sectional design, and self-report measures in existing research, demonstrating that mistreatment research may be enriched through new directions. We suggest future researchers shift focus to perpetrators and witnesses (and include multiple perspectives into single studies), and expand methodology techniques to include longitudinal studies with organizational partners.