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 behaviour of bully bosses - such as publicly criticising and ridiculing
workers or giving them the silent treatment - is a type of dysfunctional
"Although the effects of abusive supervision may not be as physically harmful
as other types of dysfunctional behaviour, 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 organisational behaviour at the University of
New Hampshire, said.
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 rumours of abusive behaviour by a boss, reading about such
behaviours in an email or actually witnessing a fellow worker being bullied by a
"When vicarious abusive supervision is present, employees realise that the
organisation is allowing this negative treatment to exist, even if they are not
experiencing it directly," the researchers wrote.
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.
The American Psychological Association offers tips for dealing with difficult
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