Career Testing
Career Testing
Career Testing
COMPANY CULTURE / FEB. 15, 2015
version 2, draft 2

Bully Boss? Fight Back, Report Says

A new report has suggested that long-suffering employees should no longer accept the intimidatory bullying tactics of their boss, and fight back instead. Read on for the study details, including the important findings.

Study details

The study, which was conducted by the Ohio State University and reported in ScienceDaily (full report published in the online journal Personnel Psychology), drew its data from two related surveys conducted by the same researchers. In the first one, 169 workers were mailed two questionnaires, seven months apart. The first questionnaire invited them to rate the hostility of their bosses, using a measure developed by lead author Bennett Tepper, and the frequency of the hostile behaviours – behaviours which included yelling and undermining their feelings and thoughts. Respondents were also asked whether they responded to their bosses’ hostility; for example, by ignoring them. Seven months later, the same group were asked similar questions to the first survey, but were also invited to comment on aspects such as their level of job satisfaction, commitment to their employer, and psychological distress.

In the second, later study involving 371 workers, the researchers sought to establish how workers felt when they gave a strong response to an aggressive manager, and whether their defiance would harm their job prospects.

Results

“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," says Bennett Tepper, the study’s lead author.

The results showed that employees who responded passively to hostility from their bosses recorded higher levels of psychological distress, lower levels of job satisfaction, and reduced commitment to their employer. Interestingly, the second study showed that the employees who gave a ‘feisty’ response to their boss’ hostility were less likely to record any psychological distress. According to the report, these employees responded with their own ‘hostility.’ For example, they ignored their boss, feigned ignorance, or gave a “half-hearted effort” – responses which Tepper describes as “passive aggressive,” similarly hostile behaviours that bosses dislike.

Of particular significance, the study also found that long-term career prospects were not harmed by workers standing up to their bosses.

The takeaways

From an early age, many of us have been brought up to respect authority, but have taken this deference to imply an unchecked, servile response to those in authority, sacrificing our dignity and self-respect in the process. Respect for one another is a foundational principle for working effectively together; it is expressed by our showing due regard and consideration for the worth of another person.

Also, as Professor Tepper acutely observes in his commentary, there is a “norm of reciprocity” in our society: we treat others as we would like to be treated. Furthermore, as they treat us, so we will do the same. Moreover, we respect those who respect themselves.

The report also challenges the assumption that standing up for yourself will harm your career prospects:

“Employers didn’t believe their actions hurt their career,” says Professor Tepper.

Do you work for a bully boss? Perhaps the most important takeaway from this report is the importance of respect: self-respect and mutual respect. There’s much more to be gained from standing up for yourself than cowering in supine silence, as this study demonstrates.

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