Impact of 'bully' boss extends to victim's co-workers

Bully boss
Abusive bosses who target employees with ridicule not only have a bad effect on them but negatively impact the work environment for their co-workers, who suffer from "second-hand" or vicarious abusive supervision, a new study has claimed.

In the first ever study to investigate vicarious supervisory abuse, Paul Harvey, associate professor of organizational behaviour at University of New Hampshire (UNH), and his research colleagues Kenneth Harris and Raina Harris from Indiana University Southeast and Melissa Cast from New Mexico State University discovered that supervisory abuse is associated with job frustration, abuse of other co-workers, and a lack of perceived organizational support beyond the effects of the abusive supervisor.

Abusive supervision is believed to be a dysfunctional type of leadership and includes a sustained display of hostile verbal and nonverbal behaviors toward subordinates.

Long-lasting wounds are also felt by the co-workers of the victims of bullying bosses.

Vicarious supervisory abuse is defined as the observation or awareness of a supervisor abusing a co-worker.

The researchers said that when vicarious abusive supervision is present, workers realise that the organization is allowing this negative treatment to exist, even if they are not experiencing it directly.

The researchers queried a sample of 233 people who work in a wide range of occupations in the Southeast US, demographically, the sample was 46 percent men, 86 percent white, with an average age of 42.6 years, had worked at their job for seven years, had worked at their company for 10 years, and worked an average of 46 hours a week.

The respondents were asked about supervisory abuse, vicarious supervisory abuse, job frustration, perceived organizational support, and co-worker abuse.

The researchers found similar negative impacts of first-hand supervisory abuse and second-hand vicarious supervisory abuse: greater job frustration, tendency to abuse other co-workers, and a lack of perceived organizational support.

In addition, the negative effects from either type of abuse were intensified if the co-worker was a victim of both kinds of supervisory abuse.

The research has been published in the Journal of Social Psychology.

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