Employees who work for abusive bosses are more likely to report unfairness and work stress, and consequently become less committed to their work or even retaliate, according to a new study published in the Journal of Management.
The findings highlight the consequences of abusive supervision, which is becoming increasingly common in workplaces, says coauthor Liu-Qin Yang, an associate professor of industrial-organizational psychology in Portland State University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
“Stress is sometimes uncontrollable. You don’t sleep well, so you come in late or take a longer break, lash out at your coworkers or disobey instructions,” Yang said. “But justice is more rational. Something isn’t fair, so you’re purposely not going to help other people or when the boss asks if anyone can come in on a Saturday to work, you don’t volunteer.”
For the research, the team evaluated 427 studies in order to better understand why and how bullying bosses can lower “organizational citizenship behavior” (the helpful things you do that aren’t part of your job requirements) and/or increase “counterproductive work behaviors.”
Examples of counterproductive work behaviors include coming in late, taking longer-than-allowed breaks, doing tasks incorrectly or withholding effort, all of which can impact coworkers and workplace productivity.
The research team attributes the negative work behaviors to either perceptions of injustice or work stress. With perceptions of injustice, employees who are bullied by their bosses see the treatment as unfair in comparison to the effort they’ve put into their jobs. In response, they’re more likely to purposely withhold from the unpaid extras that help the organization, like helping coworkers with problems or attending meetings that are not mandatory. They are also more likely to engage in counterproductive work behavior such as taking longer breaks or coming in late without notice, Yang said.
An abusive boss can also lead to work stress, which reduces an employee’s ability to control negative behaviors or contribute to the company in a positive way. The findings show that fairness (or lack of it) accounted more for the link between abusive supervision and organizational citizenship behavior, while work stress led to more counterproductive work behavior.
The researchers recommend that companies take action to reduce abusive supervision. Among their suggestions:
- Hold regular training programs to help managers learn and implement more effective interpersonal and supervisory skills when interacting with their employees.
- Develop and implement fair policies and procedures to reduce employees’ perceptions of injustice in the organization.
- Make sure employees have sufficient resources to perform their job, such as offering stress management training.
Source: Portland State University