The psychological impact of working in a negative-workplace
Researchers have found a growing national trend in employees experiencing some form of
negative behavior in the work environment. Schat, Frone & Kelloway reported in 2006 in a
prominent study of U.S. workers that 41.4% or approximately 47 million American workers
reported being involved at their workplace with psychological antagonism over the past 12
months (Schat et al., 2006). In a survey conducted by the U.S. government of federal employees,
out of forty-two thousand or 58% of those participating in the survey, 13% or 1 in 8 witnessed
some kind of form of negative behavior in the workplace (Federal Government, 2012).
Studies into negative work behaviors and their environments have researchers looking at the
relationship of work-related psychosocial hazards and relationship to psychological illness.
Negative behaviors aimed at an individual or a group of co-workers have various labels such as
manipulation and exploitation, bullying, degrading and humiliation, and harassment (Zapf &
Most recent research has linked negative behaviors to the health of the employee. In a study by
Bowling and Beehr (2006), found that various behaviors such as depression, anxiety and
physical symptoms had a significant relationship. Other researchers found bullying or negative
behavior in the workplace and that employee intention to leave the organization has an indirect
link to ill health (Djurkovic et al., 2004).
These studies confirm that when employees experience the negative effects of psychological
workplace hazards and the above-mentioned behaviors are prominently displayed amongst the
individual or group, it results in high absenteeism and huge turnover rates in the organization.
In a recent study done by the University of Copenhagen psychology department, 2,154
healthcare workers were followed for three years to investigate the risk of turnover when
exposed to a negative environment at the workplace. In the first year, the study found that 9.2%
of the workers responded to a negative environment on a frequent basis. In years two and three,
they saw a strong correlation between frequent exposure to a negative work environment and
high turnover rates. This study also pointed out the correlation between the health of the worker
and work Conditions (Hogh A, Hoel H, Caneiro IG, 2011b).
Three factors stood out in this study regarding why these workers wanted to quit: poor
leadership, constant exposure to negative behavior, and health problems, which can affect the
worker in the long term (Hogh A, Hoel H, Caneiro IG, 2011b).
As a result, organizations experience high absenteeism, and high turnover that ultimately end
up with low productivity, poor creativity and a decline in work quality (Hogh A, Hoel H,
Caneiro IG, 2011b).
All of this hampers an organization’s ability to compete in a competitive environment, their
ability to hire and retain talented individuals, and the fostering of a healthy work environment.
Negative behaviors should not be tolerated in the workplace. It is too costly for the organization
and the individual. Additionally, it undermines the goals, vision and ultimately the success of
Whenever this negative behavior is exposed in an organization, a zero tolerance policy should be
implemented throughout the organization. Managers and leaders should monitor the work
environment on a constant basis. Managers need to keep an open door policy for all employees
to talk about problems they may be experiencing in the organization. Seniors managers should
conduct town hall meetings with all employees to understand the work climate. Senior
managers should be approachable without being judgmental at all times.
In conclusion, a negative workplace environment affects all employees in both the private and
government sector. Mitigating and eliminating a negative work environment may save the
organization costly medical bills and decrease absenteeism. Negative behaviors can arise in
every workplace environment and needs to be dealt with swiftly by upper management and
Further research is needed to understand the nature, causes, and consequences of negative
workplace behaviors, such as aggression, and perhaps most importantly, policies and
interventions to reduce such behaviors.
Bowling N.A. & Beehr T.A. (2006) Workplace harassment from the victim’s perspective: a
theoretical model and meta-analysis. The Journal of Applied Psychology 91 (5), 998–1012
Djurkovic N., McCormack D. & Casimir G. (2004). The physical and psychological effects of
workplace bullying and their relationship to intention to leave: a test of the psychosomatic and
disability hypotheses. International Journal of Organization Theory and Behavior 7 (4), 469–
Federal government (2012). One in eight feds have witnessed workplace violence in past two
years. Federal Government Publication, Baltimore, MD.
Hogh A, Hoel H, Caneiro IG (2011b) Bullying and employee turnover among health-care
workers. A three-wave prospective study. Journal of Nursing Management, 19,742-751.
Schat, A.C.H., Frone, M.R., & Kelloway, E.K. (2006). Prevalence of workplace aggression in the
U.S workforce: Findings from a national study. In E.K. Kelloway, J. Barling, and J. Hurrell
(Eds.), Handbook of workplace violence. Thousand Oaks, CA:SAGE.
Zapf D., Einarsen S., Hoel H. & Vartia M. (2003). Empirical findings on bullying in the
workplace. In Bullying and Emotional Abuse in the Workplace. International Perspectives in
Research and Practice, 1st edn., Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology 44, 103- 126.
Derrick Darden, PhD