Courtney DiCocco, B.A., Southern Connecticut State University Laura Link, B.A., Southern Connecticut?State?University Robert?Kinzler,?B.A.,?Southern?Connecticut State University Christopher J. Budnick, Ph.D., Southern Connecticut State University
Individuals? treatment at work may negatively influence mental health, or exacerbate mental health conditions (Namie, 2003). For example, supervisor mistreatment can increase employee paranoia (Bortolon?et al., 2019) and anxiety (Sparr?&?Sonnentag, 2008), which are also common Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) symptoms.?We expected that higher PTSD symptomology would predict multiplicative increases in anxiety and paranoia following unfair versus fair supervisor treatment.
PTSD presents an array of symptoms developed after exposure to traumatic events (American Psychiatric Association, 2013). In general, individuals with PTSD experience higher paranoia than those without PTSD (Champbell?& Morrison, 2007; Alsawy?et al., 2015; Gracie et al., 2007). Although trauma can lead to paranoid thinking (Freeman & Fowler, 2009), paranoia and PTSD are unique constructs (Freeman et al., 2013). Similarly, individuals diagnosed with PTSD tend to experience elevated anxiety relative to the public (Wang et al., 2005). Although PTSD and anxiety often are comorbid (Kar & Bastia, 2006; Spinhoven?et al., 2014), PTSD does not seem to directly strengthen anxiety symptoms (Grillon?et al., 2009). Unfair supervisor treatment predicts paranoia and anxiety (Lopes et al., 2018; Pyc et al., 2016), which may be stronger when experiencing PTSD symptoms. Consistent with this logic we predicted that higher PTSD symptomology would predict higher anxiety and paranoia following unfair compared to fair supervisor treatment.
We recruited a U.S. demographically representative sample through Qualtrics (n?= 205, 51.7% female, 18 – 24 years old = 6.3%, 25 – 44 years old = 41.5%, 45 – 64 = 36.1%, 65 years or older = 16.1%) who were randomly assigned to read a fair (n = 98) or unfair (n = 107) supervisor scenario. Pre-measures assessed trait affect, emotional control, PTSD symptoms, sleepiness, insomnia, personality, trait anxiety, and stress, while post-measures captured self-awareness, paranoia, state anxiety, and demographical data. Data collection and analyses are complete.
A bivariate correlation analysis assessed whether PTSD symptoms, state paranoia, and state anxiety associated. PTSD symptoms and state anxiety were significantly positively correlated?(r = .58,?p < .001). However, PTSD symptoms and state paranoia were not significantly related (r = – .09, p = .203). ?? First, we tested whether condition assignment and PTSD symptoms would interact to predict state paranoia. Hierarchical linear regression results failed to support this hypothesis because the interaction term?s entry into the model did not explain unique variance?when predicting state paranoia (?F[1, 201] = 0.55,?p?= .459).Still, results indicated a significant main effect of condition assignment on state paranoia (b?= 2.05,?t =?9.84,?p?< .001,?CI95%[1.64, 2.46]);?the relationship between PTSD and state paranoia was null (b?= -.002,?t =?-0.002,?p?= .99,?CI95%[-.29, .28];?FFull?Model[3, 201] = 33.24,?p?< .001). Specifically, compared to the fair treatment condition, the unfair treatment condition reported state paranoia that was 2.05 units higher.? ? We then tested whether condition assignment and PTSD symptoms interacted on state anxiety. Hierarchical regression results failed did not support this prediction as the interaction term did not explain unique variance in anxiety (?F [1, 201] = .001, p = .627). However, results did show a significant positive effect of PTSD symptoms on state anxiety (b =.442, t = 7.674, p < .001, CI95%[.329, .556]); the relationship between condition assignment and state anxiety was null (b = .014, t = .167, p = .868, CI95%[-.152, .180]; FFull?Model[3, 201] = 33.89, p < .001).
This study assessed levels of PTSD symptoms in a large randomly assigned sample of the general population. Consistent with Shaikh et al.?s (2021) findings that employees who were treated poorly by supervisors were more paranoid. Additionally, our observation that increased anxiety was predicted from increased PTSD symptoms in the general population confirms and expands the findings of Ginzburg et al. (2010), who concluded that veterans experienced anxiety after PTSD. PTSD was not clinically diagnosed in this sample which may have restricted the PTSD symptom levels. Future research should examine these processes with a clinical sample to provide additional information on these factors and their workplace influence. Additionally, participants did not experience ?in vivo? workplace treatment during this study, rather they read vignettes. Although a common research approach in workplace studies, individuals may react more strongly when experiencing unfair treatment compared to reading about them. Thus, to assess the relationship between PTSD symptoms and workplace treatment, future research might consider experience sampling methodologies to capture real-time interactions.
PTSD symptoms, when interacting with unfair workplace treatment, did not predict increased paranoia or anxiety. However, being treated unfairly in the workplace did predict increased paranoia, while higher PTSD symptoms predicted higher anxiety. Future research should expand upon these results in clinical populations and using advanced research designs.