Bullying Bosses Threaten Workplace Safety

Tired Worker
Image Credit: Shutterstock / Visual Generation

A new study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology by researchers at Portland State University suggests that bosses who bully employees not only lower the morale at work but can also lead to problems with workplace safety.

Liu-Qin Yang, an associate professor of industrial organizational psychology, and her co-authors, found that the safety behavior of employees who are bullied by their bosses can worsen, since, among other things, the bullying distracts and detracts from workers connection to coworkers.

According to the study, a boss’s behavior can strengthen or weaken worker’s sense of belonging to the work group by either supporting or undermining their status within the group. When treated poorly by a supervisor, employees can feel less valued by the group as a whole. As a result, the employees may focus more on themselves, leading them to overlook safety rules and opportunities to promote a safe work environment.

Employees who are more uncertain about their social standing within the work group are particularly vulnerable and can have stronger negative responses to the bully boss.

"When people are less sure about their strengths and weaknesses and their status within a group, they become more sensitive," Yang said.

"Organizations need to understand how important it is to curb leaders' bad behavior and to create positive team dynamics, so that there will be fewer negative safety consequences for employees or customers," she said. "It's really critical to manage such leader behavior, support victimized employees, and prevent such issues."

The study recommends that employers:

  • Train leaders to improve interactions with employees, such as providing feedback in ways that are not offensive or threatening.
  • Promote a work environment that strengthens social bonds between employees to create a buffer against the negative consequences of bosses' bad behaviors.
  • Implement transparent performance evaluation processes so employees are clear about their social status in the workplace.

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