Definitions adopted by the Work Trauma Foundation

Work trauma is the adverse effects and impact on the employee's physical and/or emotional wellness, health and safety as a result of physical and/or emotional violence experienced in the workplace.

These symptoms typically include, but are not limited to, external wounds and injuries and/or symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), excessive stress and/or stress-related illnesses. (Steinman, 2003)

Corporate Aggression refers to all situations where the majority of employees or any minority group feel subjected to unilateral conscious, calculated or planned negative actions, attitudes, rules and/or policies imposed by the employer to serve the employer's interests, in a situation where these employees feel that they are collectively unable to defend themselves and/or approach and/or reason with the source of aggression and/or effect any changes. (Steinman, 2002)

Workplace Violence

Cumulative or single incidents where employee(s) are physically attacked/assaulted or emotionally abused, pressurised, harassed or threatened (overt, covert, direct, indirect) in circumstances related to their work; challenging their right to dignity and respect with the reasonable likelihood of impacting adversely on their physical or emotional safety, health, well-being and social development. (Steinman 2002)

Includes: Any physical violence such as assault or attack or psychological/ emotional violence such as abuse, bullying/mobbing, threats, sexual or racial harassment.


Repeated and overtime offensive behaviour through vindictive, cruel or malicious attempts to humiliate, marginalize or undermine an individual or groups of employees and includes, but is not limited to, psychological pressure, harassment, intimidation, threats, coercion, conspiracies, manipulation, extortion and hostile and unfair behaviour which could impact on the worth, dignity, emotional and physical well-being and health of the victim (Steinman, 2003)

Victims: terms of reference (Steinman, 2003)

Are you a victim, target, work trauma survivor or conqueror?
The different countries use different terms. For example when the term "mobbing" is used for collective bullying, the target or victim would be referred to as a "mobbee" (Davenport). The word victim is also not welcomed in all circles and some academics stay clear from using this term. However, in avoiding the term it may just be possible that we are avoiding to confront an aspect of bullying because of our own fears. Victim means a helpless situation, when you are at the mercy of another object and this is everyone's worst nightmare - that is why people sometimes distance themselves from victims. In Corporate Hyenas At Work, we used the term because this book is directed at victims/targets and we believe that we should confront our fears by getting close to the victim and feel and understand the pain.

Therefore I have redefined the scenario's in victimisation as follows:

in the early stages those affected by workplace bullying, abuse, violence and harassment think of themselves and call themselves involuntary "victims" unless they had been exposed to the term 'target' - describing a nerve-wrecking situation and articulating their feelings of disempowerment and helplessness. They have no power to fight back (yet) and they would be seeking assistance to cope with the strange situation.

when the victim decides to fight back while the situation is still prevailing, they become "targets" because a target is mobile and has a chance - thinking of words like target sales, target date, target audience - this all indicates purposefulness and a target my still be suffering a great deal, but has moved on to a stage where they are purposefully working towards a solution.

Work Trauma Survivors
when the target get out of the situation by any means (resignation, grievance case, tribunal, exposed the bully, organizational intervention, etc.) they become "work trauma survivors", whether they suffer from PTSD or not;

Work Trauma Conquerors
when the work trauma survivor is in control of his/her happiness once again, productive and the effects of PTSD and the unpleasant phases of mourning your job had subsided (and some even start helping others) this group becomes the "work trauma conquerors"


Incidents where staff is abused, threatened or assaulted in circumstances related to their work, including commuting to and from work, involving an explicit or implicit challenge to their safety, well-being or health. 1
Violence appears as physical violence or as psychological violence in different forms, which may often overlap. Terms related to violence are defined in the following GLOSSARY

The use of physical force against another person or group, that results in physical, sexual or psychological harm. Includes beating, kicking, slapping, stabbing, shooting, pushing, biting, pinching, strangling, among others. 2
Assault/Attack Intentional behaviour that harms another person or group physically, including sexual assault (i.e. rape).
Intentional use of power, including threat of physical force, against another person or group, that can result in harm to family life, livelihood, physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development. 3 Includes verbal abuse, bullying/mobbing, harassment, intimidation and threats.
Abuse Behaviour that humiliates, degrades or otherwise indicates a lack of respect for the dignity and worth of an individual. 4
Bullying / Mobbing Repeated and overtime offensive behaviour through vindictive, cruel or malicious attempts to humiliate or undermine an individual or groups of employees. Includes intimidation, extortion, coercion and manipulation.
Harassment Any conduct based on age, disability, HIV status, domestic circumstances, sex, sexual orientation, gender reassignment, race, colour, language, religion, political, trade union or other opinion or belief, national or social origin, association with a minority, property, birth or other status that is unreciprocated or unwanted and which affects the dignity of men and women at work. 5
Sexual harassment Any unwanted, unreciprocated and unwelcome behaviour of a sexual nature that is offensive to the person involved, and causes that person to be threatened, humiliated, degraded or embarrassed. 6
Racial harassment Any implicit or explicit threatening conduct that is based on race, colour, language, national origin, religion, association with a minority, birth or other status that is unreciprocated or unwanted and which affects the dignity of women and men at work. 7
Threat Any implicit or explicit promised use of physical force or power (i.e. psychological force, blackmail or stalking), resulting in fear of physical, sexual, psychological harm or other negative consequences to the targeted individuals or groups.


When referring and discussing the effects of workplace violence, four concepts are often used, sometimes interchangeably. These are Stress, Traumatic Incidents and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Work Trauma. The definitions for these terms are discussed below:

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder: First and foremost it is necessary to understand the concept "Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). PTSD is a natural emotional reaction to a shocking and disturbing experience. It is a normal reaction to an abnormal situation.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is defined in the DSM-IV, the fourth edition of the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. The DSM-IV international equivalent is the World Health Organization's ICD-10. A revision, DMS V is currently underway.

The category of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, chronic or delayed (309.81) says" "The essential feature is the development of characteristic symptoms following a psychologically traumatic event that is generally outside the range of usual human experience. The characteristic symptoms involve re-experiencing the traumatic event; numbing of responsiveness to, or reduced involvement with, the external world; and a variety of autonomic, dysphoric or cognitive symptoms. 8

The emphasis on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as a result of experiencing or witnessing physical violence has its origins in the initial research on PTSD. This had been undertaken with people who had suffered a threat to life e.g. combat veterans, victims of accident, disaster and other acts of violence. However, there is growing recognition that Post Traumatic Stress Disorder can result from many types of shocking, but not necessarily life-threatening experiences including an accumulation of smaller, individually non-life-threatening events. Therefore the ICD 10 definition of the World Health Organisation captures mental and physical trauma and "exposure" indicates witness as well as direct experiences: "Exposure to an exceptional mental or physical stressor, either brief or prolonged" 9.

Stress: The internet-based Academic Press Dictionary of Science Technology defines Stress in terms of behaviour as "(1) an unusual environmental condition that causes physiological, emotional, behavioural, or cognitive changes in an individual and (2) the changes or effects resulting from such environmental demands". In terms of psychology the AP Directory defines stress as "(1) specifically, a physical or emotional reaction to a situation perceived as unfamiliar, threatening, harmful, and so on and (2) the negative situation itself. Another more universal definition: "Stress is defined as an imbalance between perceived environmental demands on the individual and his/her perceived response. 10" Stress is therefore not something happening to the individual, but the way in which the individual responds to what happens. 11

Traumatic incidents: Mitchell (1983) defines a traumatic incident as any situation faced by victims, which cause them to experience unusually strong emotional reactions and have the potential to interfere with their ability to function either at the scene or later. This can be any type of unusual experience, which disrupts the victim's normal level of functioning and ability to cope. 12

1.Adapted from European Commission DG-V
2.Adapted from the World Health Organisation's definition of violence.
3.Adapted from the World Health Organisation's definition of violence.
4.Alberta Association of Registered Nurses
5.Human Rights Act, UK
6.Irish Nurses Organisation
7.Adapted from Human Rights Act, UK
8.Schulz, H., Van Wijk, T. and Jones, P. 2000. Trauma in Southern Africa. Understanding emotional trauma and aiding recovery. Traumatology Services International.
9.World Health Organisation. 1992. The ICD 10 Classification of Mental and Behavioural Disorder: Clinical Descriptions and Diagnostic Guidelines. Geneva.
10.Cooper, C.L. (ed.). 1991. Industrial and Organizational Psychology. Edward Elgar Publishing Limited, Vol. 2.
11.Schulz, H., van Wijk, T. and Jones, P et al


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