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Università degli Studi di Trento

Dipartimento di Scienze della Cognizione e della Formazione

Dottorato di ricerca (PhD) XXII ciclo

Aggressive behavior at work: Investigating and integrating the
target’s and actor’s perspectives

Advisor: PhD candidate:

Prof. Franco Fraccaroli Cristian Balducci


Prof. Wilmar Schaufeli

November 2009

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Table of contents

Chapter 1 Introduction p. 3

Chapter 2 Relationships between bullying at work and MMPI-2 p. 14

personality profile, post-traumatic stress symptoms and

suicidal ideation and behaviour

Chapter 3 Assessing the bullying risk in organizations: Contribution p. 32

to the Italian validation of the Short Negative Acts Questionnaire


Chapter 4 Workplace bullying and its relation with work characteristics, p. 51

personality, and post-traumatic stress symptoms: An integrated model

Chapter 5 The stressor-emotion hypothesis of counterproductive work p. 77

behavior: Testing a mediation/moderation model of abusive

behavior at work

Chapter 6 Are role stressors and workaholism related to abusive behavior p. 103

at work? The mediating role of workplace bullying

Chapter 7 General discussion p. 127

References p. 135

Acknowledgements p. 156

Curriculum vitae p. 156

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Introductio n

Although there has been a recent trend in work/organizational and occupational health

psychology to focus on positive organizational behavior (Bakker & Schaufeli, 2008; Schaufeli &

Salanova, 2008), its opposite, i.e. negative and destructive behavior, is still a widespread

phenomenon in modern organizations. Researchers have often studied the latter form of behavior

by referring to it with the term ‘counterproductive work behavior’ (CWB; Fox & Spector, 2005;

Sackett, 2002; Sackett, & DeVore, 2001), which consists of volitional acts that harm or intend to

harm organizations and their stakeholders. The most prominent form of CWB is physical

violence (Di Martino, Hoel & Cooper, 2003; LeBlanc & Barling, 2005). However, it may take

the form of much less striking behaviors, such as theft of objects belonging to the employer or

colleagues, organizational withdrawal, acts of abuse and hostility towards others, and production

deviance (Spector, Fox, Penney, Bruursema, Goh et al., 2006). All of these may have high costs

for organizations and the employees targeted.

Much research in this area has taken a personnel psychology perspective and has sought

to identify dispositional variables that may predict CWB, so that organizations can avoid hiring

employees with counterproductive tendencies. Personality factors have been repeatedly shown to

possess utility in this domain, particularly conscientiousness, agreeableness and emotional

stability/neuroticism (Berry, Ones, & Sackett, 2007; Hershcovis, Turner, Barling, Arnold, Dupré

et al., 2007; Ones & Viswesvaran, 2001; Salgado, 2002). Other traits found to be related to CWB

are self-control (Marcus & Schuler, 2004) and even cognitive ability (Dilchert, Ones, Davis, &

Rostow, 2007). More recently, an occupational health psychology perspective has emerged, in

which CWB is seen as a behavioral reaction to job stress (Fox, Spector, & Miles, 2001; Fox,

Spector, & Rodopman, 2004). According to this hypothesis, job-related negative emotions

elicited by working conditions are the factors responsible for CWB. Thus, from this perspective,

the emphasis is on the environmental conditions that may trigger the process leading to CWB.

However, evidence in favour of the stressor-emotion hypothesis is still sparse: for example, a

comprehensive test of the hypothesis have never been attempted.

The analysis described by the present study was designed to contribute to research in this

area by pursuing two main objectives. The first was to test the robustness of the stressor-emotion

hypothesis of CWB (Spector & Fox, 2005) with the focus on the mediational role of job-related

affect. The second aim was to integrate the personnel psychology perspective of CWB with the

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stressor-emotion hypothesis and test the added value of a person-environment interactionist

explanation of CWB.

The stressor-emotion model of counterproductive work behavior

The stressor-emotion model of CWB proposed by Spector and Fox (2005) builds upon the

frustration aggression hypothesis (Dollard, Doob, Miller, Mowrer, & Sears, 1939) and integrates

concepts from human aggression theory (e.g., Berkowitz, 1989; Neuman & Baron, 2003, 2005)

with concepts from stress theory (Lazarus 2006; Lazarus & Folkman, 1984). The model

postulates a causal chain leading from objective organizational stressors to negative emotions,

through the appraisal process, to behavioral reactions in the form of CWB. Thus, the proximal

antecedents of CWB are work-related emotionally critical internal states (see also Neuman &

Baron, 2003) – mainly anger, but also anxiety, envy, etc. – while the distal antecedents are

organizational stressors that elicit such negative internal states, such as role conflict and role

ambiguity. An important element in this process is control over the environmental condition that

causes the emotional response, with low control increasing the likelihood of negative emotional

experiences and/or negative behavioral reactions. The role of personality is also acknowledged,

since, given the same conditions, not all individuals will react in the same manner (Spector &

Fox, 2005). Thus, according to the stressor emotion model, CWB is an emotion regulation

strategy: behavioral reactions are a way to enact and discharge negative emotions at work. A

similar interpretation of CWB is also put forward by other authors (e.g. Bechtoldt, Welk, Hartig,

& Zapf, 2007).

In line with the stressor-emotion model, research has shown that perceived stressors are

indeed related to CWB (Aquino, Lewis, & Bradfield, 1999; Chen & Spector, 1992; Fox, Spector

& Miles, 2001; Penney & Spector, 2005; Skarlicki & Folger, 1997; Storms & Spector, 1987). On

reviewing the literature in this area, Spector and Fox (2005) concluded that, although the number

of stressors studied in relation to CWB is rather limited, interpersonal conflict, organizational

constraints, role conflict and role ambiguity seem to be important, while there is more

contradictory evidence as regards organizational injustice. In parallel with these findings,

research has also shown that perceived stressors usually associated with CWB are related to the

experience of negative emotions such as anger and anxiety (Spector & Goh, 2001).

Despite this encouraging evidence in favour of the stressor-emotion model of CWB, most

studies in this area have only tested single parts of the model, and in most cases they have

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Warr, P. (1990). The measurement of well-being and other aspects of mental health. Journal of

Occupational Psychology, 63, 193-210.

Warr, P. (2007). Work, happiness, and unhappiness. New York: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Weathers, F. W., Litz, B. T., Huska, J. A., & Keane, T. M. (1994). The PTSD checklist-civilian

version (PCL-C). Boston, MA: National Center for PTSD.

WHO – World Health Organization (2008). PRIMA-EF. Guidance on the European framework

for psychosocial risk management. Available online at (23rd October 2009):

Zapf, D. (1999). Organisational, work group related and personal causes of mobbing/bullying at

work. International Journal of Manpower, 20(1/2), 70-85.

Zapf, D., & Einarsen, S. (2003). Individual antecedents of bullying. Victims and perpetrators. In

S. Einarsen, H. Hoel, D. Zapf & C. L. Cooper (Eds.), Bullying and emotional abuse in the

workplace. International perspectives in research and practice (pp. 165-184). London:

Taylor and Francis.

Zapf, D., & Einarsen, S. (2005). Mobbing at work: escalated conflicts in organizations. In S. Fox,

& P. E. Spector (Eds.), Counterproductive work behaviour. Investigations of actors and

targets (pp. 237-270). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Zapf, D., Einarsen, S., Hoel, H. & Vartia, M. (2003). Empirical findings on bullying in the

workplace. In S. Einarsen, H. Hoel, D. Zapf & C. L. Cooper (Eds.), Bullying and emotional

abuse in the workplace. International perspectives in research and practice (pp. 103–126).

London: Taylor & Francis.

Zapf, D., Knorz, C., & Kulla, M. (1996). On the relationship between mobbing factors, and job

content, social work environment, and health outcomes. European Journal of Work and

Organizational Psychology, 5(2), 215-237.

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Very special thanks go to Franco Fraccaroli, my PhD advisor, who created many

opportunities for my development as a researcher during these three years. Most importantly,

Prof. Fraccaroli made it possible for me to meet with Wilmar Schaufeli (my co-advisor), who

provided me with top level supervision in the area of occupational health psychology.

I would also like to thank the University of Trento for the scholarship they granted me to

pursue my doctoral studies.

Curriculum Vitae

I was born in 1973 in Ancona (Italy). I graduated in Psychology–Work and Organizational

Psychology (summa cum laude) in March 1998 at the University of Urbino (Italy). I became

chartered psychologist in 2000. In the same year I obtained a scholarship from the University of

Padova, by which I took the Master of Science (MSc) in research methods in Psychology at the

University College London (UCL – University of London). Subsequently I worked at the

University of Verona (Department of Psychology) for one year. I then moved at I.N.R.C.A. (a

public research institution), working in two different European research projects (European

Study on Adult Well-being and Eurofamcare), particularly focusing on the development of the

survey tools and on data analysis. In 2006 I was admitted to the PhD in Cognitive and Education

Sciences at the University of Trento, receiving a PhD scholarship from the same university. In

2008-2009 I spent a six-month period of study at the University of Utrecht (Department of social

and organizational Psychology). I’m researcher in Work and Organizational Psychology at the

University of Bologna since January 2009.

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