Are Defiant Employees Causing their Bosses to be Abusive?
Both managers and employees sometimes act inappropriately in the workplace. For example, managers can excessively yell at, ridicule, or make fun of those working for them. We’ll refer to this as abusive supervision.
Similarly, employees can deliberately break rules and ignore norms, harming the organization they work for in the process. We’ll refer to this as organizational defiance.
Researchers have always believed that abusive supervision and organizational defiance often seem to occur in the same workplaces. But which one is the cause, and which one is the result?
The traditional belief is that abusive supervision leads to organizational defiance. Basically, if the boss treats employees poorly, they ultimately retaliate against the organization.
Although many psychology studies have a hard time determining which is the cause and which is the effect, theory can step in and help shed light on the answer. When employees experience abusive supervision and feel like they’re being taken advantage of, they may feel a need to punish the organization in order to restore balance.
Alternatively, when dealing with abusive supervisors, employees may have to focus so much of their attention on the abuse that they have trouble devoting attention toward controlling their impulses. This can lead to acting in ways that are inappropriate.
In the current study, the authors examined the possibility that, when employees act out, it causes supervisors to become abusive.
When supervisors need to deal with employee misbehavior, they lose some of their own ability to practice self- control. This may lead managers to have reactions that have otherwise been inhibited. Also, in response to employee defiance, managers may feel the need to “save face” or project an aura of authority, which could lead to acting in a more authoritarian or controlling manner.
Finally, sometimes employees who act out may be inadvertently sending cues to their managers, inviting them to join in the same norm-violating behavior.
THE RESULTS OF THE STUDY
The current study used an advanced data-collection method to show that organizational defiance by employees causes abusive supervision by managers, which is the reverse of what previous researchers had assumed.
But, like many aspects of human behavior, it’s not quite so simple. The researchers also showed that abusive supervision can sometimes cause employee defiance. This was especially true when the employees did not have a lot of self-control, and when they intended to leave the organization. Under these circumstances, employees who face abusive leadership are unable to refrain from bad behavior, and they have little incentive for doing so, since they plan to leave the company anyway.
The authors also showed that, if abusive supervision and employee defiance are capable of causing each other, a vicious cycle emerges where both negative aspects can feed off of each other and escalate into an unpleasant work environment for everybody.
STOPPING THE VICIOUS CYCLE
So how can organizational leaders create a workplace that curbs inappropriate behavior from both managers and employees? The results of this article indicate that simply firing offenders may not be the right answer, since firing abusive managers won’t help if their behavior was caused by defiant employees.
What organizations can do is stress the importance of standards for employee conduct, insisting that abusive management is no excuse to retaliate against the organization. This can help slow the vicious cycle.
Also, employees and managers can be selected specifically for their capacity for self-control. This helps to make sure a bad situation does not escalate, and that both employees and managers can always respond to others in a level-headed manner.
Social Media at Work: Implications for Productivity
A pair of researchers recently set out to examine how certain people use social media at work, and how that impacted their performance.
Their survey of individuals across various industries and jobs revealed various ways that people believe social media at work helps and harms their performance. The researchers then conducted a series of studies in developing a questionnaire for measuring social media behaviors, only one of which will be the focus for this review.
This study ultimately showed that some of the factors that were perceived to be positive behaviors, such as crowd-sourcing a problem and new customer/client outreach, did not have any significant connection to increased performance.
POSITIVE & NEGATIVE BEHAVIORS ASSOCIATED WITH SOCIAL MEDIA AT WORK
There were eight dimensions of social media behaviors identified in the study that people thought would help improve their work performance. These included communicating with existing customers, new customer/client outreach, participating in an online work community, infra-office communication, reputation management, information gathering, crowd sourcing a problem, and using social media as technical solution to a problem. Later, four factors encompassing these original eight dimensions were identified.
There were also nine harmful dimensions that the people surveyed believed would negatively affect their work performance. These included representing the organization in an unbecoming manner, plagiarism, harmful behaviors that could adversely affect one’s reputation, offensive content, multitasking, time theft (such as using social media for personal use during office hours), former unprofessional relationships with co-workers and/or customers, making disparaging comments, and refusing a friend request from co-workers (which could lead to subsequent workplace tensions). These nine factors were also mapped into 4 higher order factors that encompassed all of these elements.
THE CONNECTION BETWEEN SOCIAL MEDIA & WORK PERFORMANCE
It’s not surprising to learn that the study showed harmful social media behaviors were directly related to decreased performance at work.
But what is interesting is the fact that the beneficial behaviors seemed to have no significant relationship to performance whatsoever, meaning that there may be little added value created by these actions.
The study does have its limitations. There are various industries that were not sampled that rely heavily on social media. There are also some elements of using social media at work that, while not directly responsible for increasing productivity, were tangentially related. For example, certain social media behaviors may provide stressed-out workers with a degree of relaxation, which can be related to increased performance.
THE STUDY’S BIG PICTURE TAKEAWAYS
This study fills the gap in the literature related to social media behaviors within the workplace.
The research in question can help employees realize the potential harm to their job performance that may be caused by certain behaviors they may have thought would prove beneficial. These findings could also inform social media training interventions in various work settings.
In short, some activities that may be permitted at work and are typically deemed beneficial by employers may in fact be superfluous.
The Negative Effects of Knowledge Hiding on Organizational Trust and Creativity
Have you ever encountered a situation where a colleague purposely withheld pertinent information? How did that change your interactions with them, or the dynamics within the office?
A recent study addresses the topic of Knowledge Hiding, and how consciously withholding information can affect both trust and creativity.
The act of hiding knowledge leads to what the researchers describe as “the distrust loop.” In this cycle, employees who intentionally hide information lose the trust of their peers. In order to impart a sense of justice, the effected peers will then withhold information from the knowledge hiders. This, in turn, affects the knowledge hider’s ability to collaborate effectively and generate creative ideas.
A STUDY ON KNOWLEDGE HIDING
The researchers felt it was important that the organizational environment be factored into the equation, and examined two types– the mastery climate and the performance climate. A mastery climate is one in which cooperation, employee development, and mastery of skills are encouraged. A performance climate is based on an employee’s ability to outperform colleagues and receive recognition/rewards relative to that of their peers.
The researchers conducted two studies to test their hypotheses. The first consisted of 240 employees and 34 supervisors. Employees were measured on their creativity, how they perceived the organizational climate, and if they considered themselves knowledge hiders. The supervisors were then asked to provide their perception of the creativity of their employees.
The second study consisted of 132 undergraduate students, who were asked to complete a business scenario in which students were places in three groups. The scenarios consisted of conditions that measured of the mastery climate, performance climate or no climate. Some students were also randomly selected to be knowledge hiders.
RESULTS OF THE STUDY
The researchers learned that knowledge hiders in a performance climate found themselves within the distrust loop, limiting their collaboration with peers and ultimately making them less creative than other groups. Knowledge hiders in this group were more concerned with protecting themselves, which hindered their ability to be creative in comparison with the other groups.
The groups without knowledge hiders proved more capable of freely exchanging ideas and, as a result, were more creative. Interestingly, in mastery climates, employees were generally less likely to be knowledge hiders. The mastery climate fosters such an environment of collaboration and knowledge sharing that it ultimately decreases the need for knowledge hiding, and thus does not affect creativity
ORGANIZATIONAL IMPLICATIONS OF KNOWLEDGE HIDING
In organizations in which innovation is important, encouraging employees to collaborate allows them opportunities to more readily engage each other. It allows employees to openly share ideas and drive organizational initiatives.
The big picture take-away from this study is that fostering an environment of collaboration in the workplace removes the necessity for knowledge hiding, which is ultimately beneficial to the creative progress of the entire organization.
Will Being an Average Performer Prevent Employee Victimization?
There has been a surge of interest in research on employee victimization in the last few years, both because the phenomenon is on the rise and because of the negative effects it has on both a personal and organizational level. Employee victimization has many causes and takes many forms, from aggressive incivility and bullying to general mistreatment.
Although previous studies investigated the situational and personal factors that precipitate victimization, little research has been focused on the behaviors that may lead to someone getting targeted.
THE VICTIMIZATION OF HIGH & LOW PERFORMERS
The research paper under review looked at the extent to which high and low performers may experience victimization because of their performance. Attention was paid to the factors that influence different performance levels, which in turn leads co-workers to punish the victims in different way. The researchers also examined whether this victimization would affected later performance, and in what way. Their findings showed that those people that were on either end of the performance spectrum outside norms for their group were more likely to be victimized. When employees perform well, they may be perceived as a threat and make others look bad, and so they’re mistreated. But when one under-performs and fails to contribute to overall group performance, they too will likely be victimized.
DIFFERENCES IN EMPLOYEE VICTIMIZATION TACTICS
The research also highlighted the different forms that employee victimization may take. With low performers, the treatment they get will be more overt “in-your-face” aggression, such as being yelled or sworn at. This may be because of co-workers feeling resentment against freeloaders, and their frustration at the effect their colleague’s lack of contribution has on overall team performance.
High achievers are more likely to experience covert and subversive forms of victimization, such as being ignored, resources being withheld and co-worker sabotage. This may be because of feelings of envy or inferiority, as well as the fact that high performers may highlight other member’s shortcomings. An important factor that was noted, which affected certain outcomes, was the victim’s feelings of entitlement or benevolence. With low performers this had little effect, but when high performers had a sense of entitlement– such as disregarding others and being self-serving in goal attainment– more overt forms of aggression were more prevalent. Those high performers who were more team-oriented and benevolent in their actions didn’t experience these blatant forms of aggression.
THE BIG TAKEAWAYS
These initial results aren’t necessarily a reason to accept average performance in the workplace. But they are particularly useful in being able to better predict victimization, which may help improve risk assessments and targeted prevention strategies.
Despite their limitations, these findings also highlight the need to look at how performance appraisals and incentives are given as well as how high and low performers may be dealt with to reduce victimization.
Employee victimization has the potential to seriously affect teamwork co-operation and productivity, and is therefore a critical issue to address at the organizational level.
The Connection Between Sleep Deprivation, Caffeine and Self-Control
Many of us can’t imagine going a day without our caffeine of choice—coffee, energy drinks, tea, soda, or any number of others. A recent study cited in this article claims that 90% of Americans ingest some form of caffeine daily in order to overcome the effects of sleep loss. But did you know that caffeine could also help you maintain better self-control?
THE IMPACT SLEEP DEPRIVATION
When our mental resources are depleted, we have a harder time regulating our behavior. This is often what happens with sleep deprivation, which can decrease our ability to control impulses and overcome temptation.
As our resources for self-control are depleted from lack of sleep, we become more susceptible to negative social influence— such as being less able to resist someone who tries to persuade us to do unethical things, such as deceiving others.
CAFFEINE & SELF-CONTROL
The authors claim that caffeine can actually boost our natural resources in these situations, helping us to better control our actions and refrain from unethical behavior, even when someone is attempting to influence us.
The study found that, when participants were tired, they were more likely to succumb to unethical suggestions from others. But, after consuming caffeine, the participants had more resources to resist social influence (that is, the researcher telling them to deceive the other participants) because the caffeine alleviated some of the effects of sleep deprivation.
SLEEP VS. CAFFEINE
These findings are particularly applicable in work settings, where sleep deprivation in employees could make them less able to resist unethical temptations from others at work.
But, while helpful in some regards, caffeinated beverages also have some disadvantages. Caffeine is a diuretic, can increase anxiety and heart rate, and can cause withdrawal symptoms like headaches and fatigue when you stop consuming it.
It’s not a cure-all solution for resisting unethical suggestions, either: The study found that well-rested individuals had much greater self-control than those who were tired, even when the sleep-deprived individuals ingested caffeine. Well-rested individuals didn’t experience the same benefits as sleep-deprived individuals who ingested caffeine, because it affected them less. So they were ultimately able to resist unethical behavior equally well, whether there was social pressure or not.
But if rest is lacking, caffeine may give people the extra boost they need in order to get back some of the self-control they’ve lost from being exhausted.
Taking control back: Surviving an Abusive Supervisor
Abusive supervision is a serious issue, and much more prevalent than you might realize.
A lot of research has been done on this topic– partly because it is on the increase, but also because of its devastating effects on morale and productivity.
In looking at personality and the choice of coping strategies, new research reveals insights that can help employees maintain performance while surviving an abusive supervisor.
COPING WITH AN ABUSIVE SUPERVISOR
The transactional stress model details a 2-step process in individuals confronted with a stressful event: First, they decide how this event impacts their general well-being; secondly, they decide if something can be done to minimize negative effects, choosing an appropriate coping strategy to deal with the situation.
So what coping strategy would you employ in dealing with the stress caused by an abusive supervisor? Either you would directly address the issue and take initiative to solve your problem (i.e. active coping strategies), or you may prefer avoiding the issue until the worst passes (i.e. avoidance strategies).
The question is, is one of these strategies better than the other, or is there more complexity involved in effectively handling such a situation?
PERSONALITY & PERFORMANCE
A new study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology suggests personality has a more significant effect on performance than the choice of coping strategy when dealing with an abusive supervisor. However, the research does suggest that avoidance strategies will negatively affect employee performance in the long run.
That being said, researchers found that conscientiousness (one of the Big 5 personality traits) influences how well you work under such circumstances, no matter you choose to deal with it. In this case, conscientiousness refers to how people control themselves, preferring planned behavior over more spontaneous expressions.
The work performance of employees who ranked high on conscientiousness and used various coping strategies wasn’t affected nearly as much as those who were low on conscientiousness and using various strategies. This highlights the major role conscientiousness plays in helping people maintain their performance, even when choosing different ways of coping with an abusive supervisor.
THE BIG-PICTURE TAKEAWAY
This research can be useful for an organization’s selection criteria, as it seems that certain kinds of people are naturally more adept at maintaining their performance in the face of stressful work environments and demanding superiors.
But, on a more personal level, those employees struggling with an abusive supervisor may want to stop avoiding the issue, as the study shows that their work performance will inevitably suffer.
The Impact of Envy on High Performers in the Workplace
High performers– that is, employees who work harder and accomplish more than the average– are typically highly valued by employers. Unfortunately, this advanced performance level can cause overachievers to be noticed and even targeted for bullying by their peers, who may be envious of the attention or rewards they’re given.
Such victimization can result in decreased performance, or increased turnover, in an organization as high performers that feel targeted move on to other employment opportunities.
In a pair of new studies, researchers decided to gain a better understanding of this relationship. Their goals were to see if high-performing employees do experience victimization by their peers, the causes of this counterproductive relationship, and factors that could possibly minimize instances of workplace victimization.
THE CONNECTION BETWEEN PERFORMANCE AND VICTIMIZATION
First, the researchers tested to see if high levels of employee performance are related to victimization. A sample group of 4,874 participants from 339 different work groups were given surveys regarding their work performance and victimization.
This study found that individuals who had higher levels of work performance did report increased victimization. Accepting that victimization of high performers is an issue, the next step was to determine why this relationship exists and identify potential contextual situations that may minimize victimization.
In order to do this, the researchers ran a second, more intensive study with 217 members of 67 work groups in a South Korean company.
THE GREEN MONSTER REARS ITS UGLY HEAD
For the second study, employee performance was measured in terms of supervisor ratings, employee identification with their group, and co-worker envy toward each member of the group, as well as self-reports of victimization.
This second study revealed additional information about high performer victimization that supported findings from the first study, as there was a direct connection between employees whose performance was rated highly by supervisors and victimization by co-workers. They found that co-worker envy accounted for this relationship, as high performance led to higher levels of envy, which in turn related to victimization.
This would make sense, as co-workers may be jealous of high-performing colleagues, triggering negative actions toward their colleagues.
REDUCING VICTIMIZATION OF HIGH PERFORMERS
So the crucial question is, what actions can an organization take to minimize bullying of high performers?
Fortunately, work group identification was found to act as a buffer, weakening the relationship between high employee performance and victimization. Therefore, employers can take action by encouraging employees to identify as a member of their individual work groups or teams.
By taking the time to build strong group identification, members may feel like the contributions of the high performer reflect well on the group as a whole, rather than just the individual. In short, emphasizing the ways that individual victories benefit the whole team is key.
How Service Employees React to Mistreatment by Rude Customers
Dealing with rude customers is a universal truth to working in service positions. We’ve all been there, standing awkwardly in the checkout lane as a red-faced customer furiously berates an employee for some perceived injustice or inconvenience. Intriguingly, how employees react to this rude behavior might be influenced by cultural values.
Researchers Ruodan Shao and Daniel P. Skarlicki compared “Service Employees’ Reactions to Mistreatment by Customers” in a hotel chain with locations in China and Canada. These countries were chosen due to their discernible cultural differences, especially the disparity between an individualistic and collectivistic focus.
Individualism is a cultural value that is characterized by a more independent focus, emphasizing personal needs, feelings and autonomy. Conversely, collectivistic values focus on prioritizing harmony and group accomplishments.
The researchers theorized that being berated or otherwise mistreated by customers is stressful to employees, damaging their self-esteem and self-worth as well as consuming mental resources through mechanisms such as ego depletion.
As a result, employees are faced with a choice: They can either replenish these resources by sabotaging the service being provided (for example, by hanging up on a rude customer), or choose to protect their remaining resources by provide the minimum level of service required.
The study found that this choice is made more predictable based on the cultural context. In Canada’s individualistic culture, employees reacted to mistreatment from customers in a more direct way. In China’s collectivistic culture, employees were more likely to react by retreating from providing top-quality services. Both of these reactions have important impacts on customer service.
So what do we do with this discovery? The study’s findings are especially relevant to companies with global chains. By understanding the important role of cultural values, we can better predict the reactions of employees in different countries to stressful situations.
Furthermore, the researchers provided several solutions to the issue of stress caused by customer mistreatment, including a no-tolerance policy for poor treatment of employees, educating managers about these patterns of reactions, and encouraging a social structure at work to help with employee stress management.
In short, organizations need to remember that customers can be jerks. When they are, your employees will be faced with the choice of how to respond. Ultimately, anticipating their reactions based on cultural differences can make a huge difference in your employees’ stress management and customer service.
Consequences of Abusive Supervision
We all know that bullying is a problem in schools, but only recently have I/O psychologists become interested in bullying in the workplace.
One form of non-violent workplace aggression is abusive supervision, which occurs when a supervisor exhibits hostile behaviors such as public ridicule, yelling, or breaking promises. Abusive supervision obviously has negative consequences, but in a recent paper titled Abusive Supervision and Feedback Avoidance, Marilyn Whitman and her colleagues were interested in how abusive supervision leads to some of these unfortunate results.
Not everyone is affected by abusive supervision in the same way. However, in a sample of nurses, the researchers found that abusive supervision was related to emotional exhaustion, which in turn was related to feedback avoidance. In other words, when supervisors are abusive, workers often become emotionally exhausted, and as a result they actively try to avoid getting feedback from their supervisors.
In addition, feedback avoidance leads to additional emotional exhaustion, becoming an endless loop of negative reinforcement. While avoiding an abusive supervisor might seem like a good defense mechanism for an employee, it actually tends to make things worse.
Organizations may want to consider eliminating potentially abusive supervisors during the selection process. Applicants who exhibit high levels of authoritarianism and are more likely to attribute others’ behaviors to hostile intentions are more likely to be abusive supervisors.
Organizations could also implement training programs to raise awareness regarding what could be considered abusive behaviors, as well as how to cope with and report abuse.
When Powerful Leaders Hinder Team Performance
When we think of powerful leaders, we often imagine people who can get others to do what they wish. After all, power and leadership, by definition, involve the capacity to control or influence the behaviors of others. However, this study by Tost and Larrick shows that having more powerful leaders can actually harm team performance.
Consider two reasons this could be the case. First, leaders who overestimate their own power or who depend too much on their personal power may be less understanding of others’ perspectives, being likely to stereotype, less likely to listen, and more likely to objectify others. Alternately, true collaboration, which involves creative problem solving, idea sharing, and blending of team member viewpoints, happens over time and cannot be commanded as a simple exercise of a leader’s power. These reasons provide a potential explanation as to why too powerful a leader can harm team performance.
This study had several key findings. First, formal leaders (those who hold a specific role in a social hierarchy) who perceive themselves as having a high sense of power spend more time talking in team meetings. As a result, their teams communicate less and performance more poorly than teams whose leaders perceive their own power neutrally. Specifically, formal leads who feel powerful talk more, which discourages open team communication and hinders team performance.
Interestingly, these trends only appear among formal leaders who hold positions of authority, and their level of authority affects these relationships. Explicitly, the more authority a leader holds, the more deference they receive from their team members, and the more they tend to talk in group meetings. When leaders monopolize the floor in meetings, open team communication withers. Unfortunately for these powerful leaders and their teams, open team communication directly influences team performance. So, by talking and not listening, these leaders measureably reduce their teams’ effectiveness. Fortunately, there is a way to correct this troubling behavior. The study found that these effects were eliminated when a leader was reminded that their team members could also make important contributions.
To help decrease the problem of powerful leaders hindering team performance, the authors suggest that organizations should:
- Encourage flat organizational structures and egalitarian cultures, which lessen leaders’ perceptions of their own power.
- Train leaders to be open in their authority and to encourage team communication.
- Promote practices and policies designed to remind leaders of the potential for important contributions from their followers.
- Urge members to stand up to leaders who take a dominating approach during social interactions.
These steps could help discourage leaders from using their power in ways that are counterproductive, thus resulting in happier, more productive teams.