Nicholas Zike, M.S., Portland State University; Jamie Pockrandt, M.S., Portland State University; Dr. Liu-Qin Yang, PhD, Portland State University

This poster presents a qualitative review of the workplace mistreatment literature, focused on summarizing findings from empirical studies that either indicate the processes through which workplace mistreatment leads to paradoxically positive outcomes or the circumstances under which they occur (e.g., employees who experience ostracism engage in organizational citizenship behaviors; Balliet & Ferris, 2013). Furthermore we propose relevant theoretical frameworks to provide insights for these findings, and offer recommendations towards future theoretical developments and empirical studies.

Workplace mistreatment encompasses several negative relational experiences ranging in severity from incivility to physical violence. The literature commonly finds evidence of an array of negative individual and organizational outcomes due to mistreatment incidents (e.g., Bowling & Beehr, 2006; Hershcovis & Barling, 2010; Schilpzand et al., 2016), and organizations often seek to foster a mistreatment prevention climate which deters mistreatment toward employees, customers, and any individuals at work (e.g., Yang et al., 2014). However, the literature fails to prominently address the rare occasions in which certain forms of workplace mistreatment may be paradoxically beneficial to the employee or organization. This review highlights this gap in the literature by directly examining which individual, organizational, and other environmental factors qualify the relationships between workplace mistreatment and desirable outcomes.

This review summarizes quantitative and qualitative studies that identify one or more forms of workplace mistreatment in relation to either positive individual or organizational outcomes. To explore the divergent paths from workplace mistreatment to negative versus paradoxical outcomes, we include literature that examines the qualifying roles of individual differences, social support, leadership styles, and certain occupational or cultural contexts. We conducted a targeted search of journals in the organizational sciences to identify relevant studies. Specifically, we searched select journals in psychology and management, using the keywords “mistreatment”?, mistreatment subtypes (“incivility”, “ostracism”, etc.), “positive outcomes”, and “unexpected outcomes”. Meta-analyses and qualitative reviews for specific mistreatment subtypes were also included. Articles were only included if they studied relationships between direct mistreatment and positive outcome effects, or boundary conditions in which mistreatment predicted positive outcomes. Articles focused on reducing the relationship between mistreatment and negative outcomes were excluded from this review. Thus far, we have finished collecting all pertinent publications, and are in the process of coding them.

Our review identifies several trends for positive outcomes unique to specific mistreatment types. For example, we find abusive supervision is positively associated with target task performance, creativity, and team performance enhancement (Ferris et al., 2007; Lee et al., 2007). Ostracism predicts prosocial behavior (Balliet & Ferris, 2013; Robinson & Schabram, 2019;), discrimination is positively linked to resilience development and allyship behaviors (Jones et al., 2017), and under certain contexts bullying, aggression, and incivility are associated with resourcefulness and resilience (van Heugten, 2012).

We present paradoxical outcomes for application in current theoretical frameworks such as activation theory, conservation of resources theory, attribution theory, and leader-member exchange theory (De Clercq et al. 2020; Ferris et al., 2007; Lee et al., 2013; Marchiondo et al., 2020; Samnani et al., 2013) to explore implications for contemporary management practices. This review highlights a gap in literature by directly addressing relationships in which workplace mistreatment paradoxically predicts desirable work outcomes. We further caution against organizations leveraging these paradoxical mistreatment effects. We suggest that it is not inherently the mistreatment that predicts positive outcomes, but rather aspects of the mistreatment process which facilitates: appraisals of the mistreatment (Marchiondo et al., 2018; Samnani et al., 2013) and the extent to which a workplace offers an environment of belonging and identification for employees (Scott et al., 2015; Xu et al., 2017). In this way, mistreatment’s role in positive outcomes in the workplace can be contextualized in a larger picture focused on long term organizational and employee well-being.

This review contributes to the literature on workplace mistreatment in specific and occupational health in general, as it offers a novel perspective on positive mistreatment outcomes. Future research should test new theoretical models to help explain these paradoxical outcomes, and existing theory should accommodate these outcomes. By better understanding these processes, organizations can make more informed mistreatment interventions that align with overarching organizational goals.

Tags: Applicable to all occupations/industries, Discrimination and Harassment, Literature review, Organization- and Job-Level Environments and Practices, Psychological and Biological Effects of Job Stress, Social and Organizational Environment, Theoretical and Conceptual Issues in Job Stress, Workplace Mistreatment and Threats, Workplace Mistreatment; Threats; and Violence, Workplace Stress; Outcomes; and Recovery