The Struggle Is Real: Employee Reactions to Indirect Trauma from Anti-Black Policing

Enrica N. Ruggs, Christopher K. Marshburn, Karoline M. Summerville, Kelcie Grenier

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Despite increased media coverage of police using lethal force against Black civilians, little research aims to understand how such events affect employees, particularly Black employees, at work. We draw on spillover—transferring emotions and/or behaviors from one domain to another—to examine how collective, indirect trauma, or trauma experienced by a large group of people not directly involved in an event, affected employees at work. Across two studies, we investigated Black and White employees’ differential cognitive (Study 1), emotional, and interpersonal reactions (Studies 1 & 2) to hearing about police officers’ use of lethal force against Black civilians (i.e., collective, indirect racial trauma). Results from a survey with open- and close-ended questions (Study 1) supported our predictions that Black (vs. White) employees would be more upset about police shootings and would think about, talk about, and be more distracted by these incidents while at work. Open-ended responses revealed social support, seeking advice and comfort from our social networks, as a strategy Black and White employees may use to cope with collective, indirect racial trauma at work. Importantly, support communicating mutual understanding—or shared perspective—was particularly important for Black employees. An experiment (Study 2) further probed the emotional and relational consequences of interactions with coworkers and, counter to predictions, found coworkers who expressed pro-police attitudes (i.e., not communicating mutual understanding) in the aftermath of a racially biased shooting were negatively evaluated by Black and White employees. Our findings provide implications for research on spillover and understanding coworker/team dynamics in organizations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)25-44
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Business and Psychology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022, The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature.


  • Coping
  • Coworker support
  • Critical race psychology
  • Employee well-being
  • Racial trauma

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Business and International Management
  • General Business, Management and Accounting
  • Applied Psychology
  • General Psychology


Dive into the research topics of 'The Struggle Is Real: Employee Reactions to Indirect Trauma from Anti-Black Policing'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this