ASAC 2007 Ottawa, Ontario
David A. Richards (PhD Student) Dr. Aaron C. H. Schat DeGroote School of Business McMaster University
ATTACHMENT AND CUSTOMER AGGRESSION: AN AFFECTIVE EVENTS THEORY MODEL
Customer service workers are frequently subjected to aggression of varying intensity from those individuals they serve – their customers. Using Affective Events Theory (AET) a conceptual model is presented to investigate individual attachment style, emotion regulation, the experience of customer service aggression, and related attitudes and behaviours.
Emotions in the Workplace Emotions affect every aspect of life, including the workplace. Organizational researchers have demonstrated that emotions and affect play a powerful role in many areas of human resources and organizational behaviour, including selection, training, performance management, customer service (Ashkanasy & Daus, 2002), and leadership (Dasborough & Ashkanasy, 2002). Early research on emotions at work emerged in the 1930s, after which it declined and remained relatively understudied until the 1990s (Fox & Spector, 2002) when it re-emerged as a topic of interest in organizational research (Brief & Weiss, 2002). One of the domains in which this renewal of interest is particularly notable is the customer service context, where workers are expected to manage negative emotions and display positive emotions while facing demands that include aggressive behaviour from customers (Grandey & Brauburger, 2002).
Customer Aggression The service sector is one of the fastest growing sectors of the economy and represents a large proportion of the work force in North America, Europe, and elsewhere. Many organizations in the service sector place significant emphasis on the quality of customer service as a source of competitive advantage. The premium placed on customer service is perhaps best illustrated by the belief that “the customer is always right.” Although this belief may contribute to high quality customer service, a potential negative side effect is that it may increase the likelihood that customers behave aggressively (e.g., verbal abuse, hostility) toward customer service employees who are expected to endure such behaviour and maintain “service with a smile” (Grandey & Brauburger, 2002). The results of a recent survey—based on a probability sample of the U.S. workforce—showed that a larger proportion of workers reported experiencing aggression from members of the public (i.e., customers, clients, or patients; 23.4%) than from supervisors (13.5%) and coworkers (15.0%) (Schat, Frone, & Kelloway, 2006). Exposure to aggressive behaviour from customers is stressful for employees and is associated with negative emotional consequences, including burnout symptoms (Grandey, Dickter, & Sin, 2004). This, in turn, will likely adversely affect employees’ work attitudes and behaviour and, in turn, organizational effectiveness and productivity.
In this paper, we develop a model of the antecedents and consequences of employee exposure to customer aggression, drawing on Affective Events Theory (Weiss & Cropanzano, 1996), attachment theory (Bowlby, 1969/1982, 1973, 1981), and emotion regulation theory (Gross, 1998; Gross & John, 2003). Affective Events Theory (AET) provides the primary framework for our model, as it provides insights into the antecedents of affective events (such as experiencing aggression from customers) and the affective, attitudinal, and behavioural consequences of experiencing such an event. Building on the work of Grandey and Brauburger (2002), we also draw on insights from emotion regulation theory to make propositions regarding the influence of different emotion regulation strategies on employees’ experience of and reactions to customer aggression. Finally, we make a number of propositions regarding the relationship between individuals’ attachment styles, emotion regulation strategies, and emotional reactions to customer aggression. Theory and research in attachment (Mikulincer & Florian, 1998; Mikulincer, Shaver, & Pereg, 2003) has shown that individuals’ attachment styles influence how they experience and regulate their emotions when confronted with stressful experiences. Therefore, consideration of attachment should help to explain how workers in service contexts experience and respond to aggressive customer behaviour.
Affective Events Theory Affective Events Theory (AET) was first proposed by Weiss and Cropanzano (1996) and provides a framework for understanding “the structure, causes, and consequences of affective experiences at work” (Weiss & Cropanzano, 1996, p.11). AET is based on the premise that affect fluctuates over time and is influenced by both endogenous characteristics (i.e., mood cycles or affective dispositions) and exogenous factors (i.e., the work environment, affectively relevant events). The theory proposes that these characteristics influence the way that individuals respond to work-related events (Ashton-James & Ashkanasy, 2005) and is based on the assumption that events cause emotional reactions, and that life and work-life are structured episodically, resulting in variation in emotional states that influence work attitudes and behaviours (Weiss & Beal, 2005). The focus of AET is on the proximal causes of affective reactions (Weiss & Cropanzano, 1996). Within the model, the work environment (e.g., physical conditions, job requirements, perceptions of management) influences the likelihood of an event happening (as well as subsequent attitudes toward work), and individual differences (e.g., personality characteristics, emotional predispositions) shape the experience of the event as well as the affective response to the event. The nature of the affective reaction (e.g., anger or sadness) to the event influences affect-driven behaviour, work attitudes, and judgement driven behaviour. Within AET, emotional or affective responses are seen to vary with respect to their specificity, intensity, and tone (Weiss & Cropanzano, 1996). Ashton-James and Ashkanasy (2005) sought to further identify the mechanisms of when, how, and why certain workplace events trigger specific affective reactions that influence work attitudes and behaviour. They propose that affect regulation becomes part of the process in order to reduce the emotional consequences of the event, but also to identify potentially negative coping responses. This regulation begins with appraisal of the event, including the perception of the event and any cognitive or emotional dissonance that arises from the assimilation of the experience. The degree of dissonance results in cognitive or emotional change as the affective response is understood as part of the process of coping with the reaction. Finally, coping strategies and behavioural intentions are developed. In the remainder of this paper, we describe a theoretical model in which we expand upon the AET framework to specifically explore the experience of service employees who are exposed to aggression from customers. The model explores the influence of work environment features (e.g., perceived
organizational support and perceived tolerance of aggression) and individual dispositions (e.g., attachment style) on affective reactions to customer aggression, and subsequent attitudes (e.g., job satisfaction), judgement-driven behaviours (e.g., turnover intentions), and affect-driven behaviour (e.g., counterproductive work behaviour). The model further expands upon previous conceptualizations of affective events by incorporating the moderating influence of emotion regulation (Gross, 1998; Gross & John, 2003). Figure 1 provides an overview of the proposed model.
Figure 1: Attachment Style and Affective Reactions to Customer Service Aggression. (Adapted From Weiss & Cropanzano, 1996)
Workplace Features Perceived Organizational Support Tolerance of Aggression
Emotion Regulation: Reappraisal
Customer Aggression Event
Emotion Regulation: Suppression
Individual Attachment Style
Counterproductive Work Behaviours
Elements of the Proposed Model: Proposition Development Work Environment Features The exogenous characteristics that influence the likelihood of a worker experiencing customer aggression and the worker’s affective reaction to customer aggression may include a variety of work environment features (Weiss & Cropanzano, 1996). In our proposed model, we consider two related dimensions of the organization’s social environment, perceived organizational support and perceived tolerance of aggression. Perceived organizational support. Perceived organizational support (POS) refers to an employee’s belief that assistance will be available from the organization when it is required to complete
work responsibilities and manage stress (Rhoades & Eisenberger, 2002). The perception of support from an organization occurs through the personification of the institution, and represents “a distillation of views concerning all the other members who control that individual’s material and symbolic resources” (Eisenberger, Huntington, Hutchison, & Sowa, 1986, p. 501). POS is believed to develop from the treatment provided by the organization, and the interpretations that the employee makes about the organization based on that treatment (Eisenberger et al., 1986). The actions by representatives of the organization (e.g., leaders) are perceived to be indicators of the personified organization’s intention and are not necessarily attributed only to the person who is engaged in the action (Rhoades & Eisenberger, 2002). Rhoades and Eisenberger (2002) report meta-analytic findings that indicate that fairness in the workplace, support from the supervisor, favourable job conditions, and appealing rewards increase the perception of support from the organization. Social exchange theory (Blau, 1964) suggests that these perceptions are converted to social exchange currency, resulting in employees either increasing or decreasing their contribution to or investment in their employer in exchange for the perceived support provided by the organization. Supportive organizations encourage employees to exchange their effort and commitment for those resources and support (Randall, Cropanzano, Bormann, & Birjulin, 1999). POS has also been found to relate to increased performance, affective commitment to the organization, and fewer withdrawal behaviours (voluntary turnover, absenteeism, lateness) (Rhoades & Eisenberger, 2002). Lack of support was cited as one of the factors that contribute to negative reactions to customer service incidents (Boyd, 2002). Providing support to employees before (i.e., non-violence policies), during (i.e., intervening with aggressive customers), and following (i.e., providing emotional support, time to regroup) acts of customer aggression may indicate to employees that they are valued and respected. Perceived tolerance of aggression. One form of action that could be interpreted by the employee as a form of support, or lack of support, is the extent to which customer aggression is tolerated within the organization. Tolerance may arise from the notion that the “customer is always right”, and may result in greater frequency of customer aggression and more negative outcomes for workers who are exposed to such behaviour (Ben-Zur, & Yagil, 2005). Tolerance of aggressive behaviour by an organization may lead employees to perceive that aggression is accepted as part of their job, or that management will not respond to concerns about aggression (Boyd, 2002). In such contexts, fewer resources will be dedicated to preventing customer aggression (e.g., via training) resulting in employees facing increased exposure to aggression. This will also likely have indirect effects on employees’ work-related attitudes (e.g., reduced job satisfaction and organizational commitment) and behaviour (e.g., turnover). Customer Aggression Event Customer aggression occurs when an individual who, as a customer or patron of an organization, engages in behaviour that is intended to cause discomfort or harm to the service provider. Aggressive behaviour can be psychological or physical in nature, where psychological aggression includes incivility (e.g., rude comments), verbal aggression or hostility (e.g., yelling, cursing), and threats whereas physical aggression includes acts of violence such as assault (Schat & Kelloway, 2005). Because acts of physical violence by customers are relatively rare compared to acts of psychological aggression (Schat et al., 2006) and are unique in various ways (e.g., they violate the criminal code and more readily detectable), in developing our model, we focused on psychological aggression by customers. Attachment Theory Attachment theory, founded in the work of John Bowlby (1969/1982, 1973, 1980), posits that individuals are born with an innate tendency to seek proximity to others in times of need. As a result of this propensity, individuals engage in behaviours that are intended to attract and maintain proximity to
supportive others (attachment figures) in order to protect the self from psychological or physical threats. Although these behaviours are critical for survival in early life, they are also active over the lifespan (Mikulincer & Shaver, 2005). The extent to which individuals are able to elicit the necessary responses from the attachment figures (who are both available and responsive), result in a sense of security (or lack thereof), which then forms the basis of their attachment style. Bowlby (1973) proposed that patterns of attachment arise from early experience (based on attachment figure availability); remain relatively fixed over an individual’s life; and are activated during periods of distress or fear. Individuals then use these strategies for affect regulation later in life when they experience adversity (Mikulincer & Shaver, 2005). The measurement and classification of attachment has evolved since Bowlby’s initial work. Early attachment research used a three-factor typology (consisting of secure, preoccupied, and avoidant) to investigate infant attachment in strange situations (Ainsworth, Blehar, Waters, & Wall, 1978), romantic relationships (Hazan & Shaver, 1987; Collins & Read, 1990; Simpson, 1990), the fear of death (Mikulincer, Florian, & Tolmacz, 1990), and work difficulties (Hardy & Barkham, 1994). Research continued in these areas and others using a model of attachment composed of four attachment styles (secure, pre-occupied, dismissing avoidant, and fearful avoidant; Bartholomew & Horowitz, 1991). Each attachment style is composed of the combined ratings of the attachment dimensions: one defined as “dependence”, “view of self” or “anxiety” and the other as “view of others” or “avoidance” (Bartholomew & Horowitz, 1991; Brennan et al., 1998; Mikulincer & Shaver, 2005). While much of the early research focused on attachment style, more recent research has been directed at the construction of attachment as the two-dimensional space generated by attachment anxiety and avoidance (Mikulincer & Shaver, 2005). Within this framework the scores on the attachment dimensions determine the attachment style: low anxiety and avoidance relates to secure attachment, high anxiety and low avoidance results in a preoccupied condition, low anxiety and high avoidance relates to dismissing avoidant, and high anxiety and avoidance relates to fearful avoidant attachment (Brennan et al., 1998). Figure 2 provides an overview of the associations between the different conceptualizations of attachment. The figure is adapted from figures presented in Griffin and Bartholomew (1994), Brennan et al. (1998), and Ross, McKim, and DiTommaso, (2006).
Figure 2: Mapping View of Self & Others, Anxiety/Avoidance Dimensions, and Attachment Types
Negative view of OTHERS
HIGH ANXIETY SECURE
LOW AVOIDANCE Negative view of SELF
According to the theory, the extent to which attachment figures provide a degree of relief from distress determines whether individuals form either positive or negative views of themselves and others. For the secure individual, attachment figures become internalized with maturity, resulting in resiliency and an ability to draw upon internalized attachment figures in times of stress (Bowlby, 1973; Brennan et al., 1998; Mikulincer & Shaver, 2005). In these cases, individuals will seek to minimize distress by calling upon attachment figures to provide such relief (a primary attachment strategy) (Mikulincer et al., 2003). In cases where an attachment figure is unavailable, the individual may internalize negative feelings of the self as unworthy, and when the attachment figure is inconsistent or punishing, the individual may form a negative view of others (Mikulincer & Shaver, 2005). Individuals with insecure attachment may possess either a negative view of the self (anxiety), a negative view of others (avoidance), or a negative view of both self and others (Bowlby, 1973; Brennan et al., 1998; Mikulincer & Shaver, 2005). As a result, the insecure individual has greater difficulty coping with and adapting to stressful situations (Mikulincer & Florian, 1998). This difficulty relates to the inability to use primary attachment strategies and necessitates the use of secondary attachment strategies. A negative view of oneself (or attachment anxiety) generally involves hyperactivating strategies, which are “energetic, insistent attempts to attain proximity, support, and love” (Mikulincer et al., 2003, p.84). Individuals with a negative view of others (attachment avoidance) use deactivating strategies, which involve “deactivation of proximity seeking, inhibition of the quest for support, and active attempts to handle distress alone” (Mikulincer, et al., 2003, p.85).
The attachment anxiety dimension essentially relates to the lack of trust that an internalized attachment figure or supportive other will be available when required. Anxious individuals are more likely to use hyperactivating strategies to elicit a response from an attachment figure or proxy (such as a romantic partner, a friend, or a co-worker or supervisor). These individuals have anxiety related to separation from attachment figures and fear that they will be rejected or abandoned (Bowlby, 1973; Mikulincer, Florian, & Tolmacz, 1990). For adults, hyperactivating strategies include developing overdependence within relationships (Mikulincer & Shaver, 2005) and being hyper-vigilant with respect to social and emotional cues from others (Fraley, Niedenthal, Marks, Brumbaugh, & Vicary, 2006). On the other hand, individuals with higher attachment avoidance are likely to view others as unavailable or untrustworthy, and will therefore seek to maintain distance and independence from them (Mikulincer & Shaver, 2005). These individuals will attempt to maintain independence by engaging in deactivating strategies to avoid further distress or frustration arising from the lack of response from others (Cassidy & Kobak, 1988). Deactivating strategies involve the denial of the need for emotional involvement and avoidance of intimacy or dependence on others. This self-reliance may result from a dismissal of both negative and positive affective experiences, which prevent the activation of the attachment system and the need to be close to others (Mikulincer, et al., 2003). Worker attachment and reactions to customer aggression. Attachment style is proposed to have a significant influence on how people will respond to incidents involving aggressive customers. The ability to draw upon internalized attachment figures and make use of support from others is expected to mitigate the negative effects of customer aggression. Securely attached individuals (possessing low levels of attachment anxiety and avoidance) may experience distress as a result of the incident, but are more likely to be able to utilize primary attachment strategies. These strategies result in greater resiliency by enabling them to draw upon internalized attachment figures, and when necessary to utilize instrumental and emotional support from others. While securely attached individuals are able to use primary attachment strategies, insecurely attached individuals are less likely to experience relief from the distress caused by the incident and will incorporate secondary attachment strategies. The anxiously attached individual will utilize hyperactivating strategies to seek proximity to others; however, they are also likely to experience higher levels of negative emotions because they will exaggerate the presence or seriousness of threats, and worry about the availability of others (Ainsworth et al., 1978; Fraley et al., 2006). There is some evidence that negative experiences can exacerbate negative emotions and contribute to the continued need for hyperactivating strategies (Mikulincer & Shaver, 2003). Individuals who have higher levels of avoidance possess a negative view of others and are more likely to withdraw from contact with others using a deactivating strategy (Cassidy & Kobak, 1988). The deactivating strategies can achieve the goal of disengaging from the need for proximity, while the affective response to the situation is flattened (Mikulincer & Shaver 2003). While the emotional distance from attachment figures and supportive others has a protective influence against negative emotions, the benefits of those relationships are also not experienced (Mikulincer, et al., 2003). This may include, for example, the failure to take advantage of social support that may be available, which has been shown to mitigate the negative consequences of experiencing workplace aggression (Schat & Kelloway, 2003). As a result, aggressive behaviour by customers may trigger negative emotions that have residual effects on avoidant employees, because their strategies may be ineffective in mitigating the impact of the event. In the context of AET, attachment theory has great potential to understand individual differences in response to customer aggression. Considering the characteristics of insecure attachment, there is a theoretical basis for expecting that individuals with higher levels of attachment anxiety and attachment
avoidance are more likely to have negative affective responses to aversive customer service events such as aggression. Proposition 1: Individuals with secure attachment will experience less negative affective reactions to customer aggression than individuals with insecure attachment. In situations where the individual possesses higher levels of both attachment anxiety and avoidance (formerly termed “fearful avoidant” in categorical typologies), they will experience the greatest distress as they will experience a stronger sense of threat (anxiety) due to hyper-vigilance, with a simultaneous need maintain distance from others (avoidance) (Mikulincer & Shaver, 2003). Proposition 2: Individuals who concurrently possess higher levels of anxiety and avoidance will experience greater negative affective reactions to customer aggression than individuals with lower levels of anxiety, avoidance, or both (secure attachment). In addition to the event itself, attachment theory provides a unique understanding of individual responses to organizational support. Mikulincer and Florian (1997) found that responses to stress were influenced by attachment style and the nature of the support provided. Employees with secure attachment will generally respond in a positive manner to both instrumental and emotional support. Anxiously attached individuals are more likely to seek proximity and responsiveness from others due to their overdependence on others. Despite this propensity, they tend to not respond positively to emotional support, and respond negatively when only instrumental support is offered. Individuals who are more highly avoidant are more likely to seek distance, and may actually respond negatively to emotional support (Mikulincer & Florian, 1997). Proposition 3: Individuals with secure attachment will respond more positively to organizational support and feel less distress than individuals who are insecurely attached. Affective Reaction As AET suggests, the affective reaction of customer service employees to aggression is influenced by the workplace environment, individual dispositions, and the characteristics of the actual event. Affective reactions to aggression may include anger, sadness, and fear (Grandey, Tam, & Brauburger, 2002). Additionally, the frequency of customer aggression has been found to relate to perceived stress and emotional exhaustion (Grandey et al., 2004). Grandey et al. (2002) found that a large portion of interpersonal affective events were the result of customer behaviours. The increase in stress and negative emotions results in emotional dissonance where the employee’s true feelings do not align with the expectations of the organization regarding the outward expression of emotion (display rules), thus making it harder to maintain these display rules (Beal, Trougakos, Weiss, & Green, 2006). This difficulty maintaining display rules requires emotion regulation to reduce the emotional dissonance and enable the employee to maintain a sense of balance between the two (Grandey & Brauburger, 2002). Emotion Regulation Emotion regulation is the process by which individuals attempt to influence what emotions they have, when they have them, and how they express and experience them (Gross, 1998), and is common among customer service representatives (Grandey et al., 2004). Employees dealing with difficult customers may employ a number of coping strategies including: emotional management (reappraisal or suppression), compensation (being extra nice to the customer), punishment (ignoring the customer), expediting (quickly serving customers so they leave), avoidance (having someone else serve the next
customer), discourteousness (being less friendly), and venting (talking to others, cursing) (Bailey & McCullough, 2000). According to emotion regulation theory, (Gross & John, 1998), there are two main types of emotion regulation: antecedent-focused and response-focused. Antecedent-focused emotion regulation involves strategies that alter the emotional impact of an event. An example of antecedent-focused emotion regulation is reappraisal, which involves changing one’s response to an event by changing the way that one thinks about it. The result of reappraisal is a different emotional response, and not just a modified behavioural expression of the original emotion (Gross & John, 2003). Response-focused emotion regulation involves strategies that alter one’s emotional-behavioural response to an emotion that was elicited by an event. An example of this form of regulation is suppression, which seeks to alter one’s behavioural response to a felt emotion (Gross & John, 2003). Building on the work of Grandey and Brauburger (2002) we extend the AET model to incorporate emotion regulation as discrete variables within the model. Although the idea of emotion regulation is not expressly defined in the Weiss and Cropanzano (1996) AET framework, Ashton-James and Ashkanasy (2005) refer to the experience of cognitive and emotional dissonance and regulation of emotional change. Using the antecedent and response focused forms of emotion regulation; we expect that the use of reappraisal will moderate the affective reaction to the customer aggression event. Similarly, we anticipate that the use of suppression will moderate the association between affective reactions and the attitudinal and behavioural outcomes. Individuals who have insecure attachment anxiety are likely to use reappraisal and suppression differently than individuals with secure attachment. Secure attachment involves the ability to experience and manage emotions. On the other hand, insecure attachment is likely to result in greater difficulty managing emotions that arise from customer aggression. In general, it is expected that attachment avoidance will not be strongly associated with reappraisal, primarily because avoidant individuals are less tuned in to emotional threats (Mikulincer & Shaver, 2003) and will therefore experience less need to reappraise their emotion. At the same time, attachment anxiety is also unlikely to be strongly related to reappraisal, but for different reasons. While the anxiously attached individual is highly tuned to emotional cues, they are more likely to ruminate on negative thoughts and feelings, and generally lack the ability to separate themselves from distressing experiences (Mikulincer & Florian, 1997). For individuals who have higher levels of both attachment anxiety and attachment avoidance, it is expected that the two will interact in determining the level of reappraisal. Individuals who are high on both attachment anxiety and avoidance experience conditions that reflect the needs of both attachment dimensions. Specifically, a negative view of themselves requires validation of self-worth from others, while fear of intimacy results from a negative view of others (Griffin & Bartholomew, 1994). This combination creates a situation where hyperactivating and deactivating strategies compete. While greater negative affect is likely to result, the anxious and avoidant individual must find a way to change their affective state without seeking proximity or disengaging. Therefore it can be expected that in this case, the use of reappraisal will be higher for these individuals. Proposition 4: In response to customer aggression, individuals with higher levels of attachment anxiety and avoidance will use reappraisal less than securely attached individuals. Concurrently high levels of attachment anxiety and avoidance will relate to greater use of reappraisal. Like reappraisal, it is expected that attachment will influence the use of suppression once the affective response to customer aggression is experienced. Avoidant individuals are expected to be more likely than anxious individuals to use suppression. For much the same reason as with reappraisal,
individuals who have higher levels of attachment anxiety are less likely to engage in this form of emotion regulation. Specifically, individuals with high attachment anxiety have a negative view of themselves, are more likely to engage in emotionally-charged hyperactivating strategies to evoke a response from others (Mikulincer, et al., 2003), and be less capable of controlling the behavioural manifestation of their emotions (Bartholomew and Horowitz, 1991). In contrast, attachment avoidance is likely to relate to suppression due to the avoidant individual’s strong desire to generate distance from emotions. Avoidance involves protection from negative experiences, as well as from positive experiences (Mikulincer, et al., 2003). Research in other areas has shown empirical support for the relationship between attachment avoidance and suppression (Gross & John, 2003) Proposition 5: In response to customer aggression, individuals with higher levels of attachment anxiety will use suppression less than securely attached individuals and individuals with higher levels of attachment avoidance will use suppression more than securely attached individuals. Attitudes and Behaviours Affective events are expected to influence attitudes, affect-driven behaviours, and judgement driven behaviours through individuals’ affective reactions to those events (Weiss & Cropanzano, 1996). The affective response to customer aggression is expected to influence job satisfaction (attitude), turnover intentions (judgement-driven behaviour), and counterproductive work behaviour (affect-driven behaviour). It is proposed herein that the impact of attachment as a disposition will contribute to the prediction of the affective, attitudinal, and behavioural responses to customer aggression. Job satisfaction. Despite the fact that job satisfaction has been described as an emotional state, it is in fact “an attitudinal construct reflecting one’s evaluation of his or her job” (Ilies & Judge, 2004, p. 368). Similarly, Weiss and Cropanzano (1996) describe job satisfaction as an evaluation or attitude towards one’s job that is distinct from affect. Attitudes such as job satisfaction are formed by both affective states and cognitions (beliefs about the job and the organization) (Ilies & Judge, 2004). The focus here will be on the affective or emotional response to customer aggression; however, it is important to also consider how cognitive processes also contribute (in this case, represented by perceived organizational support). Both positive and negative emotions have been found to contribute uniquely to job satisfaction (Fisher, 2000). Ilies and Judge (2002) found that mood was a significant predictor of job satisfaction, explaining 29% of within-person variance, and that personality dimensions of neuroticism and extraversion were related to average mood level. They later found by gathering data over time that the average experienced job satisfaction was related to the total variance of overall job satisfaction (Ilies and Judge, 2004). In combination, these results suggest that individual differences in job satisfaction include both dispositions and temporal emotional states. Proposition 6: The extent to which individuals experience customer aggression (intensity, frequency, and duration) will lead to more negative affective reactions, which in turn lead to lower job satisfaction. The negative effects of customer aggression on job satisfaction will be exacerbated by insecure attachment and lower levels of perceived organizational support. According to AET, attitudes are influenced by affective events and, in turn, influence judgementdriven behaviours (i.e. turnover intentions), and to a lesser degree affect-driven behaviours (counterproductive work behaviours). Thus, attitudes mediate the relationship between experiencing affective events and the behavioural response to such events. Accordingly, in our model, job satisfaction
mediates the relationship between exposure to customer aggression and behavioural responses such as turnover intentions and counterproductive behaviours. Turnover intentions. Based on meta-analytic findings, turnover intentions is the best proxy for actual turnover behaviour (r = 0.653) (Tett & Meyer, 1993). Turnover, a judgement-driven behaviour according to AET, may be indicative of a lack of organizational commitment (Bozeman & Perrewe, 2001), and result from a number of affective and attitudinal factors. Grandey et al., (2002) identified that negative emotions predict turnover intentions. Furthermore, turnover intentions are also predicted by job satisfaction (r = -.581) (Tett & Meyer, 1993), whereas the link between job satisfaction and actual turnover is lower (r = -.19) (Griffeth, Hom & Gaertner, 2000) suggesting that other factors (i.e. the perceived utility of quitting) may constrain actual turnover behaviours. Dispositional variables, such as attachment, and events such as customer aggression are also expected to predict turnover intentions. A number of studies have shown that experiencing workplace aggression is associated with higher levels of turnover intentions (e.g., LeBlanc & Kelloway, 2002; Rogers & Kelloway, 1997) and that this effect is mediated by fear. The intensity, frequency, and duration of these stimuli as well as perceptions of organizational support will influence affective reactions, job satisfaction, and turnover intentions. In addition, attachment insecurity may also play a role in turnover intentions. Attachment anxiety may predispose individuals to be more sensitive and less able to manage the affective response arising from the aggression. On the other hand, the disengagement that characterizes attachment avoidance may result in lower levels of identification with the organization. Personal identification, mediated by job satisfaction, has been found to relate negatively with turnover intentions (van Dick et al., 2004), suggesting that avoidance may contribute to turnover. Those with insecure attachment are more likely to consider quitting than those with secure attachment, because the latter have an internal resilience that enables them to more effectively cope with aggression without leaving the organization. Proposition 7: The extent to which individuals experience customer aggression (intensity, frequency, and duration) will lead to more negative affective reactions, which in turn lead to greater turnover intentions. The negative effects of customer aggression on turnover intentions will be exacerbated by insecure attachment and lower levels of perceived organizational support. Counterproductive work behaviour. Counterproductive work behaviour (CWB) is an affect-driven behaviour that “consists of volitional acts that harm or are intended to harm organizations or people in organizations” (Spector & Fox, 2005, p. 151). Individual characteristics and situational factors contribute to the incidence of CWB, and may include such activities as withdrawal from work, abuse or hostility toward others, sabotage, or theft (Spector, Fox, Penney, Bruursema, Goh, & Kessler, 2006). The extant literature on CWB has shown that both CWB and more general forms of aggression are predicted by certain personality characteristics. Salgado (2002) conducted a meta-analysis and found that personality predicts some forms of CWB, and of the Big-5, conscientiousness has the strongest negative correlation with CWB. Other research provides evidence that negative emotional dispositions are related to CWB. Neuroticism (Jockin, Arvey, & McGue, 2001) and negative affectivity (Penney & Spector, 2005) have been found to relate to CWB. Additionally, trait anxiety has been found to be related to CWB (Fox & Spector, 1999; Fox, Spector & Miles, 2001). Negative emotions and anxiety may result in greater expectations about responsiveness from others and therefore more frustration when it does not occur. These traits would also likely be related to anger, which has a strong connection to CWB (Spector & Fox, 2005).
Although AET does not identify a linkage between attitudes and affect-driven behaviour, there is some theoretical and empirical support for a link between job satisfaction and CWB. From a theoretical perspective, CWB can also be seen as a means for employees to counteract the experience of job dissatisfaction by balancing against frustration and dissatisfaction (Bennett & Robinson, 2003). Mount, Ilies, and Johnson (2006) also found that job satisfaction partially mediates the relationship between personality and CWB, and meta-analytic results show that job satisfaction has a stronger association with CWB than organizational citizenship behaviours (Dalal, 2005). The negative emotions that result from adverse events may not only lead to lower job satisfaction, but based on the norm of reciprocity (Gouldner, 1960), may also result in higher levels of CWB as a form of compensation for that dissatisfaction. Given the associations with CWB and personality, affectivity, and anxiety, there are significant opportunities to further explore the influence that attachment style has on these behaviours. With respect to attachment anxiety, the lack of confidence that supportive others will be present (Bowlby, 1973), the hyper-vigilant monitoring, higher expectations about responsiveness, and the resulting distress (Mikulincer, Florian, and Tolmacz, 1990) are likely to result in negative emotions that could then lead to counterproductive behaviours. On the other hand, attachment avoidance is likely to result in a defensive detachment from others (Bowlby, 1973) and divert concern from social rejection (Mikulincer, Florian & Tolmacz, 1990). The self-reliance that characterizes the avoidant individual results in a bias toward selectively ignoring information, minimizing problems or distress, and minimizing the importance of supportive others (Cassidy and Kobak, 1988). The detachment that characterizes attachment avoidance is likely to result in distance from negative emotions that relate to counterproductive behaviours, and therefore factors other than attachment will likely contribute to the amount of CWB by an avoidant individual. Proposition 8: The extent to which individuals experience customer aggression (intensity, frequency, and duration) will lead to more negative affective reactions, which in turn leads to CWB. The negative effects of customer aggression on CWB will be exacerbated by attachment anxiety. Perceived organizational support may contribute to CWB as well as job satisfaction and turnover intentions. Mikulincer and Florian (1997) found that, on an interpersonal level and in stressful situations, securely attached individuals respond positively to both instrumental and emotional support, while anxious-attached individuals responded to emotional support and avoidant-attached individuals responded to instrumental support. Translated to the organizational context, organizational support will be beneficial to anxious individuals when it takes the form of emotional support, avoidant individuals when it is more instrumental in nature, and secure individuals will benefit from both types of organizational support. Based on norms of reciprocity (Gouldner, 1960), the effect that support has on affect will result in different levels of CWB as employees seek to maintain equivalence. Proposition 9: In response to customer aggression, the nature of organizational support (whether instrumental or emotional in nature) will interact with attachment style to influence CWB levels, such that securely attached individuals will respond to either form of support, but anxious individuals will only respond to emotional support, and avoidant individuals will only respond to instrumental support.
Methodological Considerations in Testing the Proposed Model It is recommended that future research include the empirical testing of the proposed relationships in field settings using longitudinal data collection (e.g., experience sampling methodologies) in order to determine the “real time” effect of customer aggression on affect and outcomes. Experience sampling methods provide meaningful within-person variability, improved understanding of psychological processes, and reduced memory bias; thereby providing researchers with opportunities to evaluate experiential processes in field settings (Beal & Weiss, 2003). These methods enable empirical data collection regarding the frequency and patterning of activity and social interaction as well as emotional and cognitive states during those activities and interactions (Csikszentmihalyi & Larson, 1987). Gathering information about customer aggression and its consequences will enable a better understanding of withinperson experiences, and better enable organizations to identify appropriate interventions to mitigate its effects. Conclusion and Recommendations Affective Events Theory (AET) provides a valuable framework for understanding influence of perceived organizational support and attachment style on the affective experience and consequences of customer aggression. It is expected that attachment style will also influence the emotion regulation strategies that individuals use, which will also have an impact on the resulting affective state. Consistent with previous research, negative affective states are expected to be negatively related to job satisfaction and positively related to turnover intentions and CWB. Attachment theory is an understudied aspect of personality in organizational research and has great potential to expand the understanding of factors influencing these outcomes. The contribution of the proposed model includes the expansion of understanding in a number of fields of study. First of all, testing this model will lead to a better understanding the impact of customer aggression on employees’ affective reactions, attitudes, and behaviours. This understanding has potential benefits for employees as well as for organizations. Secondly, this investigation will expand the knowledge of the role and nature of organizational support in mitigating or potentiating the effects of aggression in the workplace. Thirdly, appreciation of reappraisal and suppression in the regulation of emotional responses to customer aggression expands the nomological network of both emotion regulation and workplace aggression. Finally, the model incorporates attachment theory into these fields of organizational research, enabling the expansion of the nomological network of personality and emotion in organizational research, particularly as it relates to customer aggression, organizational support, and emotion regulation. From an applied perspective, the research findings could provide valuable information to organizations regarding effective ways to respond to customer aggression to reduce its likelihood of occurrence as well as its negative impact on employees’ experience of work. For example, training programs could be used to assist managers, as agents of the organization, to identify positive ways to provide support to individuals with differing support needs. A further example lies in the potential benefit of policies regarding workplace violence that may demonstrate support, while communicating information that could reduce the incidence of customer aggression.
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