Targets of Bully Bosses Aren’t the Only Victims

Targets
of Bully Bosses Aren’t the Only Victims, New UNH Research Shows
First-Ever
Study Shows Impact of Abusive Supervisor Extends to Victim’s Co-Workers
DURHAM, N.H. – Abusive bosses who target employees with ridicule,
public criticism, and the silent treatment not only have a detrimental effect
on the employees they bully, but they negatively impact the work environment
for the co-workers of those employees who suffer from “second-hand” or
vicarious abusive supervision, according to new research from the University of
New Hampshire.
In the first ever study to investigate vicarious supervisory
abuse, Paul Harvey, associate professor of organizational behavior at UNH, and
his research colleagues Kenneth Harris and Raina Harris from Indiana University
Southeast and Melissa Cast from New Mexico State University find that vicarious
supervisory abuse is associated with job frustration, abuse of other coworkers,
and a lack of perceived organizational support beyond the effects of the
abusive supervisor.
The research is presented in the Journal of Social Psychology in
the article “An Investigation of Abusive Supervision, Vicarious AbuseSupervision, and Their Joint Impacts.”
Abusive supervision is considered a dysfunctional type of
leadership and includes a sustained display of hostile verbal and nonverbal
behaviors toward subordinates.
“Although the effects of abusive supervision may not be as
physically harmful as other types of dysfunctional behavior, such as workplace
violence or aggression, the actions are likely to leave longer-lasting wounds,
in part, because abusive supervision can continue for a long time,” Harvey said.
Those long-lasting wounds also are felt by the co-workers of the
victims of bulling bosses.
Vicarious supervisory abuse is defined as the observation or
awareness of a supervisor abusing a co-worker. Examples of vicarious
supervisory abuse in a workplace include an employee hearing rumors of abusive
behavior from coworkers, reading about such behaviors in an email, or actually
witnessing the abuse of a coworker. 
“When vicarious abusive supervision is present, employees realize
that the organization is allowing this negative treatment to exist, even if
they are not experiencing it directly,” the researchers said.
The researchers queried a sample of 233 people who work in a wide
range of occupations in the Southeast United States. Demographically, the
sample was 46 percent men, 86 percent white, had an average age of 42.6 years,
had worked in their job for seven years, had worked at their company for 10
years, and worked an average of 46 hours a week. Survey respondents were asked
about supervisory abuse, vicarious supervisory abuse, job frustration,
perceived organizational support, and coworker abuse. 
The researchers found similar negative impacts of first-hand
supervisory abuse and second-hand vicarious supervisory abuse: greater job
frustration, tendency to abuse other coworkers, and a lack of perceived
organizational support. In addition, the negative effects from either type of
abuse were intensified if the coworker was a victim of both kinds of
supervisory abuse.
“Our research suggests that vicarious abusive supervision is as
likely as abusive supervision to negatively affect desired outcomes, with the
worst outcomes resulting when both vicarious abusive supervision and abusive
supervision are present,” the researchers said. “Top management needs further
education regarding the potential impacts of vicarious abuse supervision on employees
to prevent and/or mitigate the effects of such abuse.”
The University of New Hampshire, founded in 1866, is a world-class
public research university with the feel of a New England liberal arts college.
A land, sea, and space-grant university, UNH is the state’s flagship public
institution, enrolling 12,200 undergraduate and 2,300 graduate students.

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