Monday, 29 October 2012

Ruminative thoughts deepen the long-term impact of workplace violence

Experiencing workplace violence can have negative impacts far beyond the event itself. How do our own thoughts and cognitions influence this? And is there anything we can do about it?  Karen Niven and colleagues from the universities of Manchester and Sheffield suspected that ruminative thoughts may be a problem. Rumination involves returning to a difficult memory or thought over and over without a clear goal-directed purpose. Its generalised nature means it obstructs solutions while maintaining the negative qualities of the thought in time, extending its impact.

 After an initial experimental study, demonstrating that rumination on simulated violence prevents our emotional state from returning to normal levels in the short term, the team took the effect out into the field. This study investigated whether trait rumination - our individual tendency to fall into ruminative thinking, would predict longer-term outcomes following actual workplace violence. The sample of 78 social workers were surveyed on their experiences of violence over the last six months on the job (only 23% had experienced no violence), as well as completing measures of current psychological wellbeing, health complaints, and trait rumination.

Using regression analysis, the team found that individually both violence and rumination led to worsened physical and psychological health, but that violence didn't have an impact on wellbeing for those who tended not people to ruminate. In other words, rumination appeared to be a necessary condition for violence to cast a wider pall upon psychological health.

Existing research warns of the hazards of suppressing our thoughts, which is psychologically involving and can lead to negative outcomes. However, once thinking starts to become ruminative, going over old ground again and again, then finding a means of distraction may be effective in reducing impact both immediately, and in the longer term. Regardless, we shouldn't forget that the onus is on the perpetrators of workplace violence to change their behaviours. Niven, K., Sprigg, C., Armitage, C., & Satchwell, A. (2012). Ruminative thinking exacerbates the negative effects of workplace violence Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology DOI: 10.1111/j.2044-8325.2012.02066.x

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