Over 40 million people in the United States report experiencing aggression in the workplace every year (Schat, Frone, & Kelloway, 2006). Being in a hostile environment can significantly impairs an individual’s ability to function efficiently (Wilson, & Nagy, 2017). Being a target of interpersonal conflict can have detrimental effects on the mental health, performance, and job satisfaction of employees (Merecz, Drabek, & Mościcka, 2009).
Yet, how does this connect with individual differences? The role of personality at work has been a long-standing topic of discussion in organizational psychology. Particularly, how specific traits increase susceptibility to workplace stressors such as workplace aggression (Lind, Glasø, Pallesen, & Einarsen, 2009).
The Big Five factor model describes different personality types: openness to experience, consciousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism (OCEAN) as common personality types (Goldberg, 1990).
Those with a neurotic personality tend to be less emotionally stable and may perceive higher levels of workplace aggression unlike those who are less neurotic (Lind, Glasø, Pallesen, & Einarsen, 2009). On the other hand, perception of high levels of workplace aggression may influence levels of neuroticism in those who tend to be more emotionally stable (Panaccio, & Vandenberghe, 2012).
Therefore, the connection between a hostile environment and personality is important to examine due to the potential negative affect of employees influencing organizational outcomes. Furthermore, if employees are being subjected to mistreatment, they are more likely to be unhappy with the company, which in turn, creates a slippery slope where individuals will report job dissatisfaction leading to less employee retention and more turnover (Aziri, 2011).
Personality refers to individual differences in ways of thinking, feeling and behaving (Woods, Lievens, De Fruyt, & Wille, 2013). Empirical evidence has supported the dimensions of personality being divided into five identifiable markers: neuroticism (emotional stability), extraversion, openness to experience, conscientiousness and agreeableness (Goldberg, 1990).
Recently, there has been an emphasis on understanding the relationship between personality and workplace harassment (i.e., interpersonal conflict) (Wilson, & Nagy,2017). Specifically, individuals who exhibit a higher level of neuroticism tend to experience and/or perceive more interpersonal conflict in employment settings (Nielsen, Glasø, & Einarsen, 2017).
Neuroticism. Neuroticism is often referred the level of emotional stability that someone has and describes whether an individual tends to be calm or anxious (Panaccio, & Vandenberghe, 2012). Neurotic individuals more often have negative life experiences due to their pessimistic beliefs (Nielsen, Glasø, & Einarsen, 2017). Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that neurotic individuals are more likely to perceive and be victims of workplace harassment. According to Panaccio, & Vandenberghe (2012) behaviors (i.e., fidgeting, nervousness, etc.) associated with neuroticism may be annoying and a target of scrutiny by peers.
Recently, the idea of workplace bulling (e.g., aggression) has gained more attention in research. Workplace bullying is defined as harassing, offending, socially excluding someone or negatively affecting someone’s functioning in the workplace (Schat, Frone, & Kelloway, 2006). A subscale that is included under this definition is interpersonal conflict between leadership and/or co-workers (Spector & Jex, 1998).
Interpersonal Conflict. More specifically, interpersonal conflict in the workplace refers to having negative social interactions with colleagues (Spector, 1987). Often, interpersonal conflict is identified as a major source of unhappiness for individuals (Spector & Jex, 1998). Spector (1987), says that interpersonal conflict is an important stressor at work due to its negative effect on employee emotions.
In organizational settings, interpersonal conflict ranges from minor to severe (e.g., assault) (Taylor, & Kluemper, 2012). Interpersonal conflict can either be overt (e.g., yelling) and covert (e.g., rolling eyes) behaviors that create psychological stress in the victim (Merecz, Drabek, & Mościcka, 2009). Researchers have found a connection between personality and workplace victimization (Bowling, Beehr, Bennett, & Watson, 2010). A study conducted by Bowling and colleagues (2010) identified that personality traits influence victimization. Furthermore, research has started to explore how interpersonal conflicts can negatively impact job satisfaction.
Job satisfaction is defined as having a positive attitude and perceptions about one’s place of employment (Spector, 1997; Aziri, 2011). This definition aims to encompass both emotional reactions and thoughts about the job as a whole (Spector, 1997). Studies have demonstrated a link between workplace aggression and job satisfaction. Carter et al. (2011) found that a positive social environment increased job satisfaction. Although, there is some research directly investigating the relation between employee job satisfaction and workplace aggression, it is sparse.
Perceived organizational support (POS) depends on if the employee believes that the organization is treating them fairly or not (Colquitt, Cnlon, Wesson, Porter, & Ng, 2001). Empirical support is shown for POS acting as a mitigating factor for perceived workplace aggression (Schat, & Kelloway, 2003). Harlosand Axelrod (2005) found that an organization’s lack of support creates a hostile environment for employees. Schat & Kelloway (2003) found that POS has a buffering effect by decreasing the perception of targeted workplace aggression.
In addition to POS creating a stressful environment, it can also impact the emotional state of employees (Panaccio, & Vandenberghe, 2012). Individuals with a neurotic personality (e.g., emotional instability) tend to perceive less organizational support. Further, neurotic individuals are more pessimistic and likely to believe that they will not be protected by leadership when the target of interpersonal conflict (Schat, & Kelloway, 2003).
The hope of this review is to provide insight to inform best practices for companies to use to support employees. According to the literature workplace aggression, specifically interpersonal conflict, is one of the most common job stressors (Schat, Frone, & Kelloway, 2006). A relationship between personality and perceived workplace interpersonal conflict has been established by previous studies (Taylor, & Kluemper, 2012).
Additionally, research has presented POS as a moderator variable in perceptions of workplace aggression (Schat, & Kelloway, 2003). However, currently there is not much evidence to support that POS influences the relationship between personality and interpersonal conflict. Moreover, research on workplace aggression and job satisfaction is limited.
Our study aims to examine the relationship between neuroticism, workplace aggression (i.e., interpersonal conflict), and job satisfaction. We hypothesize that neuroticism predicts perception of support and being victims of workplace aggression (e.g., interpersonal conflict).
Additionally, we believe perceived organizational support moderates the relationship between interpersonal conflict and neuroticism such that it weakens this relationship, which informs our hypothesis that there is a negative relationship between interpersonal conflict among co-workers and job satisfaction.
If employees view the company as fair and supportive then they will be less neurotic and exhibit less interpersonal conflict. Examining the relationship between these variables will help agencies assess their organizational supports to better address instances of workplace bullying to reform office climate.