Human Resources



Bad boss

Standing up to horrible bosses is good for staff

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Here’s another reason why your staff need to get over their fear of complaining about their bad bosses – speaking their minds could actually help boost productivity and job satisfaction levels.

Contrary to popular belief, retaliating against hostile leaders has no long-term negative effects on career prospects of staff, new research by the Ohio State University has found.

Instead, the study highlighted employees felt less like victims when they retaliated against their bad bosses, and as a result experienced less psychological distress, more job satisfaction and more commitment to their employer.

“Before we did this study, I thought there would be no upside to employees who retaliated against their bosses, but that’s not what we found,” Bennett Tepper, lead author of the study and professor of management and human resources at The Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business, said.

“The best situation is certainly when there is no hostility. But if your boss is hostile, there appears to be benefits to reciprocating. Employees felt better about themselves because they didn’t just sit back and take the abuse.”

Hostile bosses were defined in the study as the ones who did things like yell at, ridicule and intimidate their workers.

The university’s research involved data from two related studies that the researchers conducted. Polling 169 people, the first study asked participants to rate how often their supervisors did things like ridiculing them and telling them that their “thoughts and feelings are stupid.”

The participants reported how often they retaliated by doing things like ignoring their supervisor, acting like they didn’t know what their bosses were talking about, and giving just half-hearted effort.

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Seven months later, the same respondents completed measures of job satisfaction, commitment to their employer, psychological distress and negative feelings.

Results showed that when bosses were hostile – but employees didn’t retaliate – the workers had higher levels of psychological distress, less satisfaction with their jobs and less commitment to their employer.

However, those employees who returned the hostility didn’t see those negative consequences, Tepper said. He also conducted a second study to find out whether fighting against bosses ended up to be a risky career move.

In addition to other questions, this second study asked employees about career outcomes, such as whether they had been promoted and whether they were meeting their income goals. Results showed that employees who turned the hostility back on their bosses were less likely to identify themselves as victims – and were then less likely to report psychological distress and more likely to be satisfied with and committed to their jobs.

“In this second study, we wanted to see if employees who retaliated against their bosses also reported that their career was damaged by their actions,” Tepper said. “But in our survey anyway, employees didn’t believe their actions hurt their career.”

Drawing conclusions from the two studies, Tepper said he believes employees who fight back may have the admiration and respect of co-workers.

“There is a norm of reciprocity in our society. We have respect for someone who fights back, who doesn’t just sit back and take abuse. Having the respect of co-workers may help employees feel more committed to their organisation and happy about their job.”

Tepper added the message shouldn’t be that employees should automatically retaliate against a horrible boss.

“The real answer is to get rid of hostile bosses. And there may be other responses to hostile bosses that may be more beneficial. We need to test other coping strategies.”

Image: Shutterstock

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