Workplace Mistreatment: Prevalence, Predictors, Potential Consequences, and Interventions

Sobey School of Business, Saint Mary's University

A co-worker fails to consult with you on something over which you have responsibility; a customer yells at you for having to wait for his food; your boss takes every opportunity she can to criticize you in public; a group of coworkers tries to sabotage your work and tarnish your reputation; a patient hits you when you are trying to administer medication. What do all of these incidents have in common? They all reflect workplace mistreatment, and unfortunately, the prevalence of actions like these might be higher than you think.

Over the last two or so decades, there has been growing research interest in interpersonal mistreatment in the workplace. Although media accounts tend to highlight the more sensational acts of violence (e.g., see LeBlanc & Kelloway, 2002; Schat & Kelloway, 2005), mistreatment reflects a much broader range of behaviours than physical acts of aggression. Indeed, a growing research literature has sought to understand the nature, prevalence, causes/predictors, and consequences of workplace mistreatment. Such an understanding is necessary in order to target, and hopefully reduce, such negative experiences in the work environment.

The purpose of this paper is to provide a brief snapshot of work in this area. Thus, the current review is not meant to be comprehensive but rather highlights some key findings in the domain of workplace mistreatment. It is our hope that this knowledge will stimulate organizational interest in building healthier work environments and that our review will highlight some tools to consider in such efforts.