Direct interactions with “bad bosses” can be traumatic, but the problem often goes beyond a single person. Research has shown that abusive behavior, especially when it is demonstrated by executives, can spread throughout the company and create a whole climate of abuse. Organizations can also structure work environments that combat abuse by: 1) informing managers of all costs associated with abusive behavior; 2) Strengthen anonymous feedback channels where employees can report their experiences without fear of retaliation; and 3) compliance and enforcement of fair and equitable standards throughout the organization.
Millions of people are exposed to abusive superiors and bullies at work . These employees are the daily target of ridicule, threats or degrading comments from their managers, which leads to reduced satisfaction, productivity and commitment to the job and to the organization as a whole.
While direct interactions with “bad” bosses can be traumatic for employees the problem often goes beyond a single person. In fact, some of my own research has shown that abusive behavior, especially when it is demonstrated by executives, can spread throughout the organization and create a whole climate of abuse. As employees look at and learn from managers, they understand that this type of human abuse is acceptable behavior in the company. Essentially, employees are beginning to think “this is how it is done”, and this belief manifests in a toxic environment that tolerates abusive behavior. Studies have even shown that employees who are abused by a manager are more likely to pass this type of treatment on in in a wave effect .
As such, the results of destructive jobs are devastating and harm work teams and individuals alike. For example, in several studies, my colleagues and I found that abusive climate has a negative impact on the collective effectiveness of a work group, indicating that the team has lost confidence in adequately performing a task. In addition, abusive work environments destroy important bonds between team members, which leads to a decrease in the performance and behavior of citizenship, which means that employees help and support each other less. Toxic jobs also affect the lives of people outside the work area. Employees report feeling emotionally drained, less well-being, and even more conflict at home (i.e., conflict between work and family).
Given the harmful consequences of abusive superiors, the question arises as to what can be done to change this behavior. My most recent research attempted to provide answers by asking both managers and employees about their willingness to deal with abusive supervision at work.
First, my colleague Bailey Bigelow and I wanted to understand what abusive bosses change their behavior. To this end, we asked superiors to think about a time when they made humiliating comments and rude behavior towards subordinates. We then asked them to write about this experience in as much detail as possible. After retrieving and describing the abusive incidents, managers were instructed to evaluate how they felt and acted after the abuse. We also asked if they ended up abusing the behavior.
We have found that superiors experience a loss of social value after the abuse of subordinates, which means that they generally feel less valued and valued at work. This diminished sense of value, in turn, appeared to affect managers’ performance, as employees increasingly reported that their superiors were unable to perform the assigned tasks or tasks that were expected of them.
But at the same time, we also found that some managers (those who had no psychopathic tendencies) found that they stopped abusing employees. Abusive bosses significantly improved their bad behavior when they cared about their social value and overall well-being of employees. In contrast, psychopath bosses (up to 10% of corporate managers) who are cold, unfeeling, cynical, and without remorse seem indifferent to social impact and welfare, making them less likely to quit To abuse subordinates.
Incomprehensible If superiors themselves change abusive behavior, I was also curious about the conditions under which witnesses of abuse by superiors would help a victim colleague. So my co-author Marshall Schminke and I used delayed survey data from several sources in another research study to understand when employees stand up for an abused employee.
We found that organizational norms are essential to guide observers to address misconduct. If employees believed that their organization generally valued and emphasized fairness (e.g., people felt that promotion, compensation, or bonus structures were fair), observers were much more likely to help a victim colleague. In fact, these norms seem to empower bystanders to act because they begin to believe in their ability to positively change the lives of others (a concept known as “ethical effectiveness”). It is this newfound trust that makes them express themselves.
Taken together, the results of my two most recent studies suggest that we can structure work environments in a way that combats abuse.
First, companies should raise awareness and inform managers of all costs associated with abusive behavior. By emphasizing the adverse consequences of abusive behavior at the beginning of the career during the company orientation as well as through continuous training programs, managers would understand that negative actions harm not only others but also themselves. As a result, many bosses could do without abusive behavior out of self-interest.
Second, companies can include or empower anonymous feedback channels where employees can express concerns and report abusive experiences without fear of retaliation. Peer managers, supervisors, or the human resources department could provide relevant feedback to managers to make it clear that the organization does not tolerate this type of behavior. Knowing that others disapprove of the superior – or worse, that they do not appreciate or appreciate him – can lead to this self-correcting abusive behavior.
Third, organizations must adhere to and enforce fair and ethical standards in all aspects of corporate life because employees think about these values before deciding whether to abuse them or not. If they feel that fair and respectful treatment is generally valued and supported within the company, employees can be safer to face an abuser and protect someone who has been abused.
Overall, by raising awareness of the costs of perpetrators and by constantly communicating fair values and norms that allow employees to speak up, we can possibly say that “the time for toxic jobs has run out”.