This summary is provided by the IPR Organizational Communication Research Center based on the original study.

Drs. April Yue and Patrick Thelen conducted a study to investigate how perceived verbal aggression from supervisors and coworkers in the workplace affects employees’ perceptions of two types of conflicts – workgroup relationship conflict and work-life conflict – as well as their overall relationship with the organization. Workgroup relationship conflict is characterized by animosity, interpersonal emotional tension, annoyance, and dislike among group members. Work-life conflict, on the other hand, occurs when work responsibilities interfere with non-work activities. By exploring the impact of verbal aggression on these outcomes, the researchers aimed to deepen our understanding of this relationship and assess the prevalence and consequences of perceived aggression in the workplace.

To explore these dynamics, the researchers conducted an online survey of 392 full-time employees in the U.S. in September 2021.            

Key Findings                                                          
— While media attention has often focused on extreme cases of organizational aggression, such as physical assaults and workplace homicide, it is important to note that the majority of instances of workplace aggression are actually verbal in nature.
— Verbal aggressiveness demonstrated by supervisors and coworkers can lead to relationship conflict within the workgroup. This, in turn, can exacerbate employee perceptions of work-life conflict.
— Workgroup relationship conflict weakens employees’ overall relationship quality with their organizations.       
— When employees experience greater work-life conflict, they are more likely to perceive that they are not being treated well by the organization. This can result in a reciprocation effect, where employees respond with a lower commitment, trust, and satisfaction with their organization.

Implications for Practice
It is crucial for employers to recognize that inhibiting workplace verbal aggression is just as important as fostering positive internal communication. Verbal aggressiveness should be addressed and minimized to prevent long-term negative consequences. Moreover, internal public relations practitioners should actively monitor the level of intragroup relationship conflict and assess employees’ work-life conflict, as both factors are important predictors of employee-organization relationship quality.

Click here to better understand the negative impact of workplace verbal aggressiveness.

Yue, C. A., & Thelen, P. D. (2023). Words matter: The impact of workplace verbal aggressiveness on workgroup relationship conflict, work-life conflict, and employee-organization relationships. Public Relations Review, 49(1), 102292.


Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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