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Bullying bosses: How such behaviour can weaken team unity



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When bosses bully their employees, it not just affects the employees’ morale and wellbeing, but can also be detrimental to workplace safety, a new Portland State University (PSU) study suggests.

In the study, published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, researchers surveyed a group of airline pilots and manufacturing technicians, and found that when they were treated badly, it could worsen their safety behaviour (cited in the study as forgetting to “comply with safety rules or overlook opportunities to promote a safer work environment”).

In fact, according to one of the authors – Liu-Qin Yang, an associate professor of industrial organisational psychology in PSU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the behaviour of bosses can strengthen or weaken the staff’s sense of belonging to the work group by “supporting or undermining their status within the group.”

When this happens, employees feel like they have no value to the group, which may lead to them becoming more self-centered. This, in turn, could cause them to overlook compliance with safety rules or ways to actively promote a safer work environment.

Yang explained: “When people are less sure about their strengths and weaknesses and their status within a group, they become more sensitive,” she said. “They’re more likely to respond negatively to their boss’ bullying behaviours.”

What can organisations do to prevent such occurrences?

According to the study, organisations should consider implementing training programmes for its leaders, to build on their leadership and interaction skills so they will be away of how to handle employees in a non-offensive manner.

Apart from that, the study suggests organisations and HR should also put in place a transparent performance evaluation system that could boost employees’ morale and lower their uncertainty about their social status at work.

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