Depending on its intensity and source, aggression at the workplace may be a threat to the health and wellbeing of employees. Even a relatively low but repeated exposure to aggressive acts causes visible disturbances in the mental, social and professional functioning of employees.

The European Commission defines aggression at work as "all those situations in which an employee is offended, intimidated or attacked in work-related circumstances and it directly or indirectly threatens his/her safety, well-being and health".

Given the source of aggression, we can classify it as follows:

  1. External-organizational aggression:
    • "Criminal" aggression - when the perpetrator is a person from outside the organization committing crimes, acts of sabotage or terror on organization premises.
    • Client aggression - when the perpetrator is e.g., client, student, patient, prisoner or passenger.
    • Aggression resulting from personal relationships of employees - when partners, family, or friends of an employee commit acts of aggression against them or others on the organization’s premises.
  2. Internal-organizational aggression:
    • Interpersonal aggression which appears between co-workers and within co-worker- supervisor relationships.
    • Organizational aggression - occurring in organizations with job roles that may experience threatening situations (bailiffs, financial control officer etc.) or in organizations with an unsupportive organizational climate, enabling or even promoting extreme competition and violent solutions of existing problems without respect to human dignity.

According to many scientists studying the phenomenon of aggression at work, the most common forms of aggressive behaviours are:

  1. Displaying hostility, e.g., raising the voice, swearing, offensive gestures or comments, threats, insinuations, social boycotting, exclusion, ignoring someone’s presence, spreading false information about a victim, excessive and unjustified criticism, unfair assessment of work, projects destructions.
  2. Intentional obstruction of work (obstructionism), including deliberately slowing down the team's work by leaving the workplace, being late to meetings, losing documents, making mistakes, being unprepared for work, delaying tasks, concealing important information, equipment or turning on fire alarms.
  3. Overt aggression – for example, throwing objects, physical attacks, sexual harassment, theft and destruction of property (e.g., damage to machines and equipment, scratching the car, deleting important files or installing a virus on computers).

The consequences of exposure to aggression at work affect not only victims, but also organizations. After an aggressive incident, victims often experience increased feelings of anger, irritation, anxiety, depression, discouragement, helplessness, thoughts of resignation, low energy. They may also feel guilty and have low self-esteem. Physical complains often accompany psychological problems. Victims may suffer from headaches, recurring migraines, stomach aches, nausea, insomnia, sleep disturbance, and increased muscle tension.  Witnesses of aggressive incidents may also feel anxiety and discomfort. During the period when workplace aggression is experienced, social and professional life also suffers - relationships with colleagues change, interpersonal conflicts occur more often, there is a strong desire to change or leave work, and productivity decreases. The perception and attitude of the employee towards the management may also change, with a lack of trust in the management caused by feeling unsafe at work, which affects productivity, commitment to tasks and compliance with professional ethics.

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The EMPOWER project has received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme under Grant Agreement No. 848180