Workplace deviance includes both organisational and interpersonal dimensions and is an extremely costly issue for organisations. The interpersonal dimension refers to voluntary behaviours which violate significant social norms, and are directed at an individual target by another organisational member. Whilst previous research demonstrates that interpersonal deviance is detrimental to targets and their organisations, many questions remain answered. What do targets do in response to their experiences? What factors or processes underpin target responses? Do target responses have an impact on the relationship between the experience and its deleterious outcomes? What factors create precipitating environments for its occurrence? Who is targeted?
To attempt to answer these questions, I designed and conducted a mixed-methods project consisting of three empirical studies. The overall aim my doctoral research was to develop and test a model of interpersonal deviance and its effects in organisations. Focussing on the target’s perspective, I explored the role of target responses as a possible mediator between interpersonal deviance experiences, and a variety of negative outcomes. I also delved into the functions of individual level processes in bridging the divide between what causes the behaviour, and its eventual consequences.
Sparse studies on target responses to bullying and other forms of interpersonal deviance conducted to date have used the Exit-Voice-Loyalty-Neglect-Retaliation (EVLN) framework (Farrell, 1983; Hirschman, 1970), or some variation thereof, as a means of classifying target responses. In Study 1, I explored whether the recently extended EVLNR typology (including retaliation; Rayner & Lewis, 2010) could be used to classify target responses to interpersonal deviance, and thus fulfil the role of mediator within my research framework. Specifically, I examined factors or processes that underpin response selection, such as dissatisfaction. I analysed the interview data using both thematic and exploratory techniques. The findings of this study suggest that, if used in isolation, the EVLNR framework does not adequately capture the wide range ways targets may respond to interpersonal deviance. Further, dissatisfaction does not relate to responses in the manner proposed by the EVLNR framework’s original and developmental authors. The results demonstrate that affect and stress play important roles in determining how targets respond, and that target responses appear to serve one of two aims; resolving the problem (problem-focussed), or dealing with the negative emotions arising from the experience (emotion-focussed).
In view of these results, I returned to the literature, finding a combination of the Transactional Theory of Psychological Stress (Lazarus & Folkman, 1984) and Affective Events Theory (Weiss & Cropanzano, 1996) provided a more robust theoretical foundation for my research framework. I therefore developed a theoretical model of a specific type of interpersonal deviance (mistreatment) that addresses a number of the concerns raised by Lazarus (2006) regarding previous stress and coping research. In particular, my model extended Lazarus and colleagues’ (1986) unique work on stressors, appraisal, coping and adaption.
The model includes variance hypotheses (which examine the impact of within-construct variability on the relationships between model variables), and process hypotheses (which investigate the mechanisms through which model variables relate). The model includes three appraisal processes, as well as mediatory and moderated relationships between mistreatment experiences, negative affective responses, coping (which may be emotion-focussed and/or problem-focussed), and both individual and organisational outcomes. These outcomes include psychological wellbeing, psychosomatic health, job satisfaction and organisational citizenship behaviour. Within the model, I also differentiate between affect-driven behaviour (e.g., emotion-focussed coping) and judgement-driven behaviour (e.g., citizenship behaviour).
I conducted two survey studies (Study 2 and Study 3) to preliminarily test the core relationships within my process-and-variance model, both with data collected at two points in time. Collectively, results indicate that, while a number of hypotheses were supported or partially supported, other results were sample specific or unanticipated. Key findings were that mistreatment is an affective event, with negative affective responses differentially related to emotion- and problem-focussed coping. My results also suggest the answer to the ill-founded emotion- versus problem-focussed coping debate may not be ‘either or’, or even ‘it depends’, but rather ‘it does not matter.’ Neither category of coping served an adaptive purpose, with damage to psychological wellbeing and psychosomatic health appearing to occur through primary appraisal of a mistreatment event (as a threat to wellbeing). I also found support for perceptions of control and changeability, which I argued result from a tertiary appraisal process, as serving an evaluative function in terms of the situational appropriateness of the coping strategies deployed.
In the final two chapters, I discuss my findings, make suggestions for a revised model, and summarise the contributions and implications of this research project. These include the need to examine appraisal, coping and outcomes simultaneously, and an imperative for organisations to prevent mistreatment, given the role of workplace factors in precipitating its occurrence, and its relationship with lowered psychological wellbeing and psychosomatic health. I summarise the limitations of the project and close the thesis with recommendations for future research.