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Study explores effect horrible bosses have on a workplace

Inappropriate language, sexual harassment, outbursts, humiliation and misuse of power were all examples of hostile behavior.

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Angry office worker on the phone in his office
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By Pol Allingham via SWNS

Horrible bosses can create horrible staff, according to a new study.

Researchers found that bad behavior at the top encourages the same throughout an organization.

A “significant” link was discovered between abusive leaders and abusive co-workers.

The team at Anglia Ruskin University, UK, (ARU) say a dangerous trend exists where aggressive bosses create a toxic workplace atmosphere rife with insecurity and exhaustion.

They noted the “reciprocal relationship” between bosses and junior staff, where bullied employees feel the only way to get ahead is to abuse others.

Cropped shot of an unhappy senior boss standing next to the table in the office
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A toxic atmosphere of heightened competition is created as a result.

Inappropriate language, sexual harassment, outbursts, humiliation and misuse of power were all examples of hostile behavior.

The team surveyed 323 employees across the UK, Pakistan, China and the United States.

They uncovered 68% of employees who experienced hostile behavior from a senior member of staff then witnessed interpersonal aggression within the general workforce.

Writing in Frontiers in Psychology, ARU uncovered horrible bosses were also linked to employees facing emotional exhaustion and job insecurity.

They suggested mistreatment by colleagues can harm employees’ confidence in their job.

Of the cohort who experienced hostility from a leader, 35 percent had suffered abusive peer behavior, 52 percent faced emotional exhaustion, and a massive 77 percent were concerned about job security.

business, teamwork, people and crisis concept - business team sitting sad and solving problem in office
(Ground Picture via Shutterstock)

Co-author Dr. Nadeem Khalid, Senior Lecturer in Entrepreneurship and Strategy at ARU, said the damage done to employees by bullish bosses is clear and can persist throughout the workplace.

He argued it wasn't an effective strategy either, noting previous studies showed hostility discourages commitment from staff.

Dr. Khalid said: “It’s clear from our study that hostile behavior at the top of a workplace is not only likely to be damaging to individuals in terms of their emotional exhaustion and job security, it is also likely to encourage other employees to act in unethical ways, creating a toxic environment across the entire organization.

“This mirroring of negative behavior may have its roots in the reciprocal relationship between leaders and employees.

“An employee who is mistreated may feel the only way to get ahead in their job is to treat others as they have been treated themselves – this may not always be intentional but it results in a race to the bottom among employees and damages job security and leads to stress and exhaustion.

“Previous studies have shown that abusive behavior from leaders is associated with a lack of employee commitment, and has a negative effect on emotional wellbeing.

“Our study suggests that the situation could be exacerbated by the negative behavior of general workers as well as the leader.”

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