A new study suggests that while abusive supervisors are never a positive presence, there is hope for most of them to change for the better.
Bad bosses make people miserable at work, but they often make themselves unhappy as well. According to a new study, abusive managers often suffer from their own negative, destructive behaviors.
Among the study’s findings:
- Abusive bosses pay steep social costs from their behavior. They lose social worth, which negatively impacts their sense of value. They often don’t feel appreciated by others at work.
- Because these bosses often feel less valued, this may negatively impact their performance.
- Their behavior often impedes their career advancement. Instead of receiving promotions, at best they may be moved laterally after complaints or poor performance reviews.
All abusive bosses share at least some of 15 qualities/behaviors. These include:
- They ridicule others.
- They tell others their thoughts or feelings are stupid.
- They put people down in front of others.
- They invade employees’ privacy.
- They remind others of their past mistakes/failures.
- They blame others to save themselves embarrassment.
- They lie easily and often.
Many bad bosses are stuck in a vicious cycle. They don’t particularly care about feedback or the social repercussions of their behavior, and they tend to devalue others’ opinion of them. As a result, they continue their behaviors.
There is good news, however. The researchers found that the majority of abusive supervisors (85%) say they understand the consequences of their actions and are willing to work on being more positive influences. Of course, this means that 15% refuse to change; and they continue to wreak havoc.
Employees, the researchers say, often feel that their only option for dealing with a bad boss is to transfer to a new department/division or to leave the company altogether. However, not only do employers lose good workers this way; they also gain a reputation as a bad place to work.
Pressure from the top can help. This might include consistently enforced zero-tolerance policies on abusive behaviors, making it clear that these are unacceptable—no exceptions. Additionally, work cultures that focus on social awareness and worth could contribute to a positive feedback loop that rewards healthy work behaviors and relationships.
In the meantime, more researchers are looking into ways to solve the bad boss problem. Some say that solutions may revolve around preventing breakdowns in leadership, penalizing instead of promoting bullying, encouraging/enabling team decision-making, and training/coaching workers on how to deal with bad bosses.