Bosses Who Bully Poison the Workplace

THURSDAY Feb. 14, 2013 -- Abusive bosses not only cause misery for the employees they target, but they also poison the work environment for the victims' co-workers, a new study indicates.

The "secondhand" effects caused by abusive bosses can lead to job frustration, abuse of other co-workers and questions about the company's support of employees, according to the researchers.

The behavior of bully bosses -- such as publicly criticizing and ridiculing workers or giving them the silent treatment -- is a type of dysfunctional leadership.

"Although the effects of abusive supervision may not be as physically harmful as other types of dysfunctional behavior, such as workplace violence or aggression, the actions are likely to leave longer-lasting wounds, in part, because abusive supervision can continue for a long time," study author Paul Harvey, an associate professor of organizational behavior at the University of New Hampshire, said in a university news release.

Co-workers of the victims of abusive bosses experience long-term negative effects, according to the survey of 233 people who work in a wide range of jobs in the southeastern United States.

The study authors said that seeing or being aware of a co-worker being bullied by a boss is called "vicarious supervisory abuse." It includes things such as hearing rumors of abusive behavior by a boss, reading about such behaviors in an email or actually witnessing a fellow worker being bullied by a boss.

"When vicarious abusive supervision is present, employees realize that the organization is allowing this negative treatment to exist, even if they are not experiencing it directly," the researchers wrote.

The study was published recently in the Journal of Social Psychology.

The findings suggest that the harm caused by an abusive boss can spread beyond the targeted workers and affect many other employees. Top managers need to be aware of the potential widespread impact of abusive bosses and take action to prevent it or reduce its effects, the researchers concluded.

More information

The American Psychological Association offers tips for dealing with difficult bosses.

Posted: February 2013


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