Honest Feedback Can Affect the Behavior of Supervisors
How powerful is feedback in the workplace? Did you know that it can affect the behavior of those in charge? In organizations, there are those who allocate resources and those who must accept what is allocated to them, be it office space, work assignments, or money. Past research paints a rather negative view of how those in charge (or “power-holders”) balance their self-interest with the interests of their subordinates. Previous research also seemed to show that those on the receiving end have little ability to affect outcomes.
However, there is some research that explains that certain factors can rein in an unbridled abuse of power. For example, feedback given from the subordinate to the power-holder may influence people with power to be more attentive to the interests of others. In this study (Oc, Bashshur, & Moore, 2014), researchers set up a series of cleverly devised studies where “subordinates” (really a computer program) gave feedback to power-holders (the actual participants), and then explored the behavioral effects.
RESULTS OF THE STUDY: TYPE OF FEEDBACK MATTERS
The researchers were particularly interested in the way that the power-holders allocated resources after receiving feedback from their “subordinates.” The two types of feedback in the study were candid feedback and compliant feedback. Candid feedback meant that the power-holder received honest and fair criticism when subordinates were not happy with what was allotted to them. Compliant feedback meant positive feedback regardless of the equality of the allocations. The researchers then explored behavioral trends which showed that when subordinates provided candid feedback about prior allocations of resources, power-holders acted markedly different to them in response, compared to how they treated the compliant subordinates. The candid feedback from subordinates seemed to influence the power-holders to restrain their inclinations toward self-interest, and they eventually distributed the resources more fairly over time. This type of feedback also seemed to activate a sense of moral self-control which helped keep power-holders relatively even-handed in their allocations rather than merely indulging in their self-interests.
Results also showed that in light of more negative feedback, the power-holders were more likely to feel guilty and as a result decrease the proportion of resources that they took for themselves. The reverse was true in situations where subordinates gave compliant feedback. In these situations, the power-holders didn’t seem to regulate their behavior. Over time, they tended to make allocations that only met their self-interests.
IMPLICATIONS FOR ORGANIZATIONS
These results highlight how subordinates do have some measure of personal control over how they are treated in the workplace. By speaking up rather than remaining silent, they can help ensure a fair distribution of resources. The results also show that by not allowing genuine feedback, or if subordinates give only compliant feedback, then those in power may be more likely to act in their own self-interest. This could negatively impact organizational outcomes. Organizations and those in leadership positions should seek to create platforms where individuals can give honest feedback and do not fear reprisals. This could be done through a mediator, or by using anonymous feedback methods.
How Unethical Customers Cost Organizations Twice
Unethical customers can cost organizations lots of money. For example, customers can steal, cheat, scam, defraud, hoodwink, or make up an overly dramatic story about how the soup of the day was far too salty so that they get a small discount. New research (Greenbaum, Quade, Mawritz, Kim, & Crosby, 2014) shows that there may be hidden costs to organizations that allow customers to consistently get away with these offenses. Specifically, it’s the employees who suffer.
ETHICS VIOLATIONS LEAD TO EMOTIONAL EXHAUSTION
The authors conducted two separate studies and found that customer ethical violations led to employees becoming emotionally exhausted. This is based on the idea that people have a certain amount of internal resources to spend, and when these resources run out, people begin to suffer from emotional exhaustion.
What about unethical customers makes internal resources run low? Specifically, the authors note that we feel an inherent need to live in a law-abiding and just society. When these ideals are threatened, it bothers us, and we become stressed-out. This explains why employees who consistently observe unethical behavior become emotionally exhausted.
In the study, this finding held up even though the authors were only considering unethical behavior targeting the organization, like the stealing that we’ve mentioned. They were not considering unethical behavior targeted against employees, as research has already established that employees can suffer from direct mistreatment. The current study shows that even crimes which occur against others may be disturbing to employees.
HARMFUL OUTCOMES OF UNETHICAL CUSTOMERS
Eventually, when unethical customers lead employees to emotional exhaustion, three specific negative outcomes occur. First, affected employees have higher levels of work-family conflict, which means that it becomes more difficult for them to balance the competing demands between their work life and family life. Second, employees have more negative relationships with their coworkers, and third, employees begin to neglect job responsibilities. All of these three things are known to be harmful to employees and can eventually affect the bottom line of the organizations that they work for. Due to this, unethical customers who steal or cheat end up costing companies twice: The value of the theft, as well as the value of the compromised employee who has to witness the theft.
HOW ORGANIZATIONS CAN STOP THE PROBLEM
So how can organizations, which typically have little control over customer behavior, cut down on the harmful effects of unethical customers? The authors make two recommendations. First, organizations may need to revisit the mantra of “the customer is always right.” While customer service is undeniably important, organizations may not want to allow their customers to get away with anything. Similarly, employees may be given more leeway when it comes to dealing with and punishing ethical violations that they observe. The authors note that observing unethical behavior is really only stressful when you are unable to do anything about it.
The second recommendation made by the authors is that even when employees witness unethical customer behavior, social support (such as increased encouragement) can help mitigate the consequences. Because the unethical behavior first led to emotional exhaustion and loss of personal resources, social support from the organization or from coworkers can help replenish these resources. Employees in jobs in which we’d expect lots of unethical customer behavior to occur may benefit the most from enhanced social support.
Intelligence Testing: Is It Always the Smartest Thing to Do?
Smart employees tend to be better at doing their jobs. This is considered one of the most important findings in the history of I-O research. Meta-analysis, which is a method of compiling results from many different researchers and studies, has shown that intelligence (or general mental ability) is associated with better job performance for basically any job. But there are other important components that make organizations successful besides narrowly-defined task performance (parts of a job that are in the job description). New research (Gonzalez-Mulé, Mount, & Oh, 2014) investigates whether intelligence can also predict other measures of workplace success.
OTHER WAYS OF MEASURING JOB SUCCESS
The authors conducted a meta-analysis to determine if intelligence is related to two major measures that are important to organizations: Counterproductive work behavior (CWB), and organizational citizenship behavior (OCB). These terms sound fancy but they are actually quite simple. CWBs mean anything that employees do that breaks organizational norms or expectations. This behavior can be directed at a coworker (i.e. bullying or harassment) or at the organization (i.e. stealing from the employer, unnecessary absences). OCBs refer to anything that employees do that are not formally recognized in their job description, for example helping out a coworker or suggesting a new way of doing things that can help the organization save resources.
RESULTS OF THE STUDY
The meta-analysis found that intelligence was associated with more OCBs, meaning that smarter employees also went beyond their job descriptions more frequently. The authors explain that smarter people are typically better at seeing the big picture, for example they may understand that helping a coworker has benefits for the organization in the long run. Also, smarter employees may sometimes have greater capacity to help out others. They may be the only ones who are capable of devising a solution to a problem that eventually helps out the organization.
However, when it came to CWBs, there was no real relationship with intelligence. The authors had predicted that smarter employees would engage in less bad behavior because they are more readily capable of seeing the dangerous outcomes, such as harming the company or harming themselves by getting caught. But the data didn’t support this conclusion.
WHAT ABOUT PERSONALITY TESTING?
The authors also compared intelligence testing with personality testing to see which was generally more useful for predicting success on the job. As predicted, intelligence testing predicted better than personality testing when the outcome was task performance, or the parts of a job that are listed in a job description. When using the other outcomes of job success (OCBs and CWBs), the authors found a different story. First, when it came to OCBs (going above and beyond job descriptions) intelligence and personality were about equally useful in predicting which employees will go above and beyond. When it came to CWBs (the bad behavior), personality was actually a better predictor than intelligence.
IMPLICATIONS FOR THE ORGANIZATION
This study supports the idea that the best predictor of job success is general intelligence, specifically because it has the ability to predict good old fashioned task-performance. It pays to hire smart employees. But that’s not the entire story. The conclusions here also indicate that intelligence isn’t the be-all and end-all of how to hire employees. Organizations should also have the foresight to care about extra effort and misbehavior at work. If you want employees who strive to make the workplace better for everyone, intelligence testing may still help, but it is not any better than personality testing. But if you want employees who don’t misbehave, personality testing may be the way to go.
Sleep Deprived Employees Engage in More Unethical Workplace Behavior
When employees engage in unethical behavior, organizations suffer. For example, employee theft or dishonesty can hurt organizations both internally and in terms of public reputation. New research (Welsh, Ellis, Christian, & Mai, 2014) has identified several key links in understanding the dynamics that lead to employee deception, which is a type of unethical behavior.
SLEEP DEPRIVATION LEADS TO EMPLOYEE DECEPTION
The authors based their research on past findings that show that sleep deprived employees are more likely to engage in unethical behavior (Christian & Ellis, 2011). When faced with an unethical opportunity, people need to use a certain amount of self-control to prevent themselves from doing the unethical thing. Researchers call this self-regulation, and people have a certain “reserve” of resources that they can use to self-regulate themselves. When people are sleep-deprived, the brain undergoes physiological changes that deplete the resources available to self-regulate. When this happens, a person may no longer have the ability to stand up to temptation, and it becomes more likely that they will actually behave unethically.
THE ROLE OF CAFFEINE AND SOCIAL INFLUENCE
In the current study, the researchers found that tired employees who also consumed caffeine were less likely to have depleted self-regulation resources. In other words, the lack of sleep did not affect them as much, and they were more likely to maintain the ability to control themselves and stand up to the temptation to behave unethically. As we all know too well, caffeine has the ability to temper some of the effects of sleep deprivation.
A second major finding was that when people’s fatigue lowered their ability to self-regulate, it didn’t always lead to unethical behavior. The authors found a condition that made it more likely that unethical behavior would result. The condition is called social influence, which refers to the influence that people receive from other people, kind of like peer-pressure. One of the pitfalls of having a decreased ability to self-regulate, is that you can be more susceptible to the suggestions of other people who are themselves acting unethically.
IMPLICATIONS FOR ORGANIZATIONS
The major takeaway from this article is that sleep deprivation among employees is bad for organizations. Besides for some of the more obvious problems that we might expect (i.e. lower productivity, more mistakes or accidents) sleep deprivation can actually cause employees to act unethically. As the authors mention, employees are now being asked to work an increasingly greater number of hours during the week, making sleep deprivation a greater challenge in the workplace.
The easiest solution is to encourage employees to get enough sleep, and to structure work schedules and workloads to support that goal. But that’s not always an easy thing to do. What else can organizations do?
Specifically, this article provides two ways that organizations can lower the amount of deceptive behavior that their employees engage in, even if they are sleep deprived. First, caffeine was shown to help. There may be something to supplying your office with a fresh pot of morning coffee. However, as the authors point out, this doesn’t mean that caffeine is the perfect solution. Technically considered a drug, caffeine does have harmful side effects such as increased anxiety and heart-rate. So don’t go overboard.
Second, organizations should realize the role of social influence. Even when sleep deprived employees lose the ability to stop themselves from unethical behavior, it doesn’t mean that unethical behavior will result. In this circumstance, peer-pressure to behave unethically is the real enemy. If organizations work to create an environment where employees behave ethically, and strive to hire more ethically inclined individuals, then even the occasional sleep-deprived employee won’t be too much of a problem.
Employee Sleepiness is Harmful for the Workplace
Sleepiness is what happens when people feel a strong biological urge to sleep. Unlike fatigue, which usually occurs when becoming exhausted by hard work, sleepiness has several different causes. These causes include poor sleep quantity (not getting enough sleep), poor sleep quality (waking up often while trying to sleep or not achieving a deep level of sleep), a disruption to the circadian rhythm (a person’s natural sleep cycle), or through drugs or disorders that affect the central nervous system. A new review by Mullins, Cortina, Drake, and Dalal (2014) shows why organizations should care about employee sleepiness.
WHAT CAUSES SLEEPINESS?
The authors mention two major work-related factors that can eventually lead to sleepiness for employees. Job demands are elements of the job that require effort. When these job demands are excessively high, employees may experience reduced quality of sleep and reduced quantity of sleep. For example, employees may be under enormous pressure to make a deadline or to complete a project. This might lead employees to work later and have less time for sleep, or to have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep.
The second major work-related factor that can lead to sleepiness is irregular work-schedules. We’d probably consider a normal work-schedule to be “nine-to-five” for five days a week, or something similar to that. But some employees work nights, weekends, or long shifts that may last 24 hours at a time. These schedules can wreak havoc on the body’s circadian rhythm, or natural sleep cycle. This can cause employees to receive an inadequate amount of sleep or an inadequate quality of sleep.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN EMPLOYEES GET SLEEPY?
Employees who experience sleepiness experience two major physiological changes. They become worse at information processing, and their feelings are affected. Information processing is the “brain power” that employees need to get their jobs done. When sleepiness occurs, people can’t think as fast, can’t remember as well, can’t learn as effectively, and can’t pay attention as long. Concerning feelings, employees who are experiencing sleepiness will experience less positive emotion and more negative emotion. Additionally, they will have poor emotion recognition and processing, meaning they might incorrectly interpret the mood of a fellow employee or fail to handle an emotional situation sensitively and tactfully. It’s easy to see how these deficiencies can cause negative outcomes at work.
HOW DOES SLEEPINESS AFFECT THE WORKPLACE?
The authors note several examples of research supported outcomes of workplace sleepiness. First, sleepy workers are less productive. They react more slowly, make more mistakes, and forget to do things. Second, sleepy employees have worse adaptive performance. This means that they will not be able to figure out how to handle changing situations and novel challenges, things which are becoming increasingly common in the modern workplace. Additionally, they will have trouble multi-tasking or quickly switching between different tasks, also common elements of the modern workplace.
Next, sleepy workers have worse contextual performance. Contextual behavior is anything done to help improve the work environment, and can include praiseworthy interpersonal behavior or simply going above and beyond job requirements. When employees are suffering from sleepiness, they are more likely to mismanage or misinterpret an interpersonal exchange, which can lead to poor communication or arguments. Also, sleepy employees tend to experience a greater range of feelings, including exposure to more negative feelings. It’s easy to see why someone in that state will have trouble contributing to the work environment in a positive, healthy manner.
Finally, sleepy employees are more accident prone, engage in more deviant behavior such as absenteeism, and exhibit more withdrawal behavior, which is when employees try to avoid things that they consider unpleasant. These too have the potential to greatly impact workplaces and organizations in a negative way.
WHAT CAN ORGANIZATIONS DO?
Hopefully by now you are convinced that employee sleepiness is highly detrimental in the workplace. But how can you prevent it? One strength of this article is that they identified several things that can eventually lead to sleepiness, including job demands and irregular work schedules. Asking employees to do an increasingly heavier load of work may seem to have short-term benefits for the organization. However, if the employee experiences sleepiness as a result, the ultimate effect could be negative for the employee and the organization. Similarly, organizations who are forced to use shift work or other irregular schedules should seek out ways to ensure that scheduling allows employees to maximize their ability to get adequate sleep.
Specific Cognitive Abilities Can Benefit Selection Programs
Organizations oftentimes use specific cognitive abilities to help select people for jobs. Selection itself is important because organizations can sometimes waste millions of dollars in training people who don’t have the right aptitude, aren’t motivated, or who don’t fit minimum requirements for the job. When an organization selects employees, it often uses an assessment process to try and find the “right people.” This assessment often involves tests of general cognitive ability, which is basically what we’d consider overall intelligence. What if organizations could fine tune these processes so that they were more successful in identifying those who may succeed in a training context or in a job? Recent research findings offer a possible way to do this.
GENERAL INTELLIGENCE VERSUS SPECIFIC ABILITIES
Many researchers adhere to the view that intelligence is made up of a single “general” factor, also called general mental ability. This view explains that there is an underlying single-dimension of mental ability that underlies numerous different types of learning and performance abilities. However, researchers debate about whether including specific abilities of intelligence can provide just a little bit of extra predictive power for organizations. Some believe that these specific abilities can help predict beyond what general mental ability alone can offer when it comes to selecting individuals for the job.
THE RESEARCH FINDINGS
The researchers investigated the importance of using general mental ability and also specific abilities in a training context, specifically military personnel learning a foreign language. The researchers examined the predictive ability of general mental ability and the specific abilities within the trainee group by using different approaches to measuring cognitive ability. Results showed that if the specific mental abilities of the applicants aligned with what was being assessed, then using the specific abilities would add predictive value for the organization. For example, in testing learning of a foreign language, the specific ability of foreign language aptitude would be more useful than numerical ability.
IMPLICATIONS FOR ORGANIZATIONS
These findings challenge many assessment and selection practices within hiring and training. In some cases, testing for general mental ability may be sufficient, but in other cases, managers should not underestimate the role that specific abilities may play in helping organizations predict who will succeed at training and on the job. This would require testing for specific abilities that are either closely aligned with job responsibilities, or are a requirement in a training program. Specific abilities should not be used when these responsibilities are not clearly defined or if there is a mismatch with actual job requirements.
When specific abilities match what is needed for either training or job success, then specific abilities can provide extra predictive power over merely assessing general intelligence in candidates. It is important to note that even a small incremental advantage in prediction for large selection programs could have a profound influence on return on investment figures.
Climate Uniformity: A New Concept with Important Organizational Outcomes
When it comes to research on organizational climate, the concept called “climate uniformity” is the new kid on the block. In fact, new research by González-Romá and Hernández (2014) is the first to actually collect data and start to determine what this concept means for organizations. The results are intriguing, as they found that the degree of climate uniformity is related to communication, conflict, and even team performance. So now you might be asking, what in the world is climate uniformity?
DEFINING CLIMATE UNIFORMITY
First of all, we have to begin with the idea of organizational climate. This term refers to a combination of individual employees’ perceptions about their workplace. For example, if employees typically feel that supervisors and coworkers treat each other justly, you might say they have a climate for organizational justice.
Another way of describing a climate is called “climate strength,” or the extent to which employees agree on what the organization’s climate is like. For example, if each and every employee believed that the organization rated a 5/10 on organizational justice, researchers would say they have a “strong climate.” If a group of employees thought it was 5/10, but many gave higher ratings and many gave lower ratings, the climate would be considered weaker because the individual ratings are more spread out.
This article discusses climate uniformity, which considers a different possibility. Perhaps half of the employees think that the organization should get a very low rating, and the other half think it should get a very high rating. In this case, there are two distinct opinions among employees. The researchers call this non-uniformity.
FINDINGS ON CLIMATE UNIFORMITY
The researchers collected data from numerous settings and considered those in which they noticed disagreement on how much support their organization provided. Like our example above, they were looking for settings in which a distinct group of employees gave low ratings to the organization, and another distinct group gave high ratings. They found that these “split” groups were associated with worse communication and more conflict about how to conduct work-related tasks. They also found that the poor communication that results fully explained why these “split” teams had worse overall performance.
So what does this all mean? From a general perspective, this article helps us think about the different types of data we can collect about our employees. It’s not always correct to think about an average score or imagine that employees’ perceptions resemble a “bell curve”. Instead, there may be two or more distinct groupings of opinions. This is important to keep in mind no matter what we are measuring, whether it is particular type of organizational climate or simply job satisfaction.
In particular, this study highlights some of the negative effects that occur when there are two distinct opinions about organizational support. If some believe that the organization supports them and some do not share this belief, bad things happen. Specifically, the rift or “us versus them” attitude that occurs can negatively impact communication, team conflict, and ultimately performance. Organizations should be advised to note the harmful impacts of this type of rift, and learn how to identify and halt these tricky situations before they become problematic.
Reducing Stereotyping: What You’re Doing May Not be Working
Stereotypes are quite common, but they are not always bad. Sometimes, we can stereotype someone in a positive way, and sometimes stereotypes are helpful because they reduce the amount of critical thinking a person has to do. The danger is when stereotypes are inaccurate or negative. This can lead to discriminatory behavior in the workplace. Organizations spend large sums of money every year on reducing stereotyping with training that aims to raise awareness and minimize their negative effects. A recent study by Duguid and Thomas-Hunt (2014) investigated whether creating greater awareness of stereotyping and encouraging resistance to them was the best way of curbing their harmful effects.
FINDINGS ABOUT STEREOTYPES
The researchers conducted a series of studies on three distinct social groups, older adults, females, and overweight people. The studies focused on the effectiveness of different messages given to employees about the prevalence of stereotyping, and the way to resist acting on these stereotypes. For example, in one study some participants were given a message that the vast majority of people are prone to stereotyping and that the participant should try to avoid stereotyping. Another group was given a message about the low prevalence of stereotyping and also to avoid stereotyping. Two other groups were given these same messages but were not told to avoid stereotyping. The researchers determined what effect this would have on how much participants expressed stereotypes. The study revealed that messages about the low prevalence of stereotyping in society yielded lower levels of stereotype expression than messages about how common stereotyping is.
Another study focused on females who were involved in compensation negotiations. The study also considered the different expectations of appropriate behavior for males and females. The researchers hypothesized that when behavior went against common stereotypes (e.g. women behaved in a more forward and forthright manner) that resistance and unfavorable reports would result. Those who received the message that stereotypes are prevalent evaluated the female negotiators as less warm than the group that was not given any message. They also were more likely to say that they did not want to work with people like that. Those who received the message that stereotyping is not very prevalent were the most likely to rate the female negotiators as warm and state that they would work with females like that.
In the final study, participants were given a negotiation task. The researchers found that messages about the prevalence of stereotyping along with messages about how to counter these perceptions could influence stereotyping expressions as well as the behavior of the participants. For example, men who received the message about the high prevalence of stereotyping were more likely to act assertively in a competitive task.
IMPLICATIONS FOR ORGANIZATIONS
This study in its entirety has significant implications for how organizations can use different types of messages to reduce the harmful effects of stereotyping in the workplace. For example, awareness of the general prevalence of stereotypes may not altogether hinder stereotypic expression, but may rather increase it. In other words, some people may be less likely to try and hide their stereotypical views when they know that most people engage in stereotyping. However, creating a culture where individuals have a heightened awareness of others’ efforts to counter stereotypical beliefs can help reduce stereotypical expression and behavior.
How a Sense of Calling Can Affect Career Decisions
What helps determine whether people pursue their sense of “calling”? The advice I always got was, “Work hard, get a respectable job in a stable industry and then pursue your passion on the side.” This shaped my extrinsic motivation, or the type of motivation that comes from outside a person, when pursuing a career. Others take to heart advice from notable public figures like the late Steve Jobs who said, “The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle.” This kind of advice fosters intrinsic motivation, or the type that comes from within a person, when pursuing a career. The pursuit of a career that meets at the intersection of these two approaches would be ideal, but often economic realities deter many. Recently, two researchers sought to understand what influences career decisions when these approaches clash.
INTRINSIC AND EXTRINSIC VALUES
Career theory posits that intrinsic and extrinsic values are both important in understanding career choice and development. Extrinsic values are more objective and measurable, and relate to wanting higher pay, prestige, and job security. For this paper, researchers were interested in intrinsic characteristics, which are more subjective and can be summed up as a calling, meaning, “a consuming, meaningful passion people experience toward a domain.” This is an interesting concept because it is linked to positive work outcomes such as work engagement, job satisfaction and clarity of professional identity. However, little is known about how people pursue careers when these aspects are misaligned within an individual.
RESEARCH ON SENSE OF CALLING
This study was longitudinal in nature, meaning it was done over a lengthy time period, and examined people with varying degrees of a sense of calling (strong vs. weak) within the music domain. The study also noted the extent to which an individual’s perceived ability (what they thought of their own ability) and actual ability (measured as recognition from others) affected their pursuit of their calling in music.
The results suggest that a sense of calling early in life (intrinsic motivation) is a particularly important factor in helping resolve career decisions later on, and in determining the trajectory of one’s career pursuits. A strong and early calling made it more likely that a person would get a degree in that area and be professionally involved. They also showed that participants with stronger early callings were likely to perceive their ability more favorably, which made them more likely to pursue music professionally. The implication is that actual ability was not as strong a determinant in pursuing a passion as one would expect.
IMPLICATIONS FOR ORGANIZATIONS
Apart from the numerous applications for individuals, from an organizational perspective, it may be worthwhile for managers to investigate how to harness the passion of those who may feel a strong sense of calling, yet have chosen to pursue more extrinsic values. For example, some companies allow employees to start small side projects, whether social or technical, and are reaping the benefits of this approach. This could have an impact on positive organizational outcomes, such as improving work engagement and job satisfaction.
Abusive Supervision may have Roots in Childhood
Supervisor anger is a common workplace problem. This can include a supervisor who is angered too easily or a situation when the supervisor’s anger is disproportional to the situation at hand. This study explores the true reasons behind this anger, hypothesizing that a history of family aggression is the root of angry reactions and abusive supervision.
SOCIAL LEARNING THEORY
Parents are the main role-models for children when they are young and children have a tendency to adopt the same coping techniques and reactions that they see their parents using. When a child grows up seeing an excess of family aggression, there are conscious and unconscious consequences. Exposure to aggression shows a child that this is acceptable behavior and this carries over into adult life, potentially creating an abusive supervisor. Seeing aggressive behavior lead to a successful outcome will also solidify the notion that aggression and abusive behavior will get the desired action or reaction. This ultimately means that children who grow up watching family aggression have the potential to become abusive supervisors for the simple reason that they were taught that aggression brings about desired results.
LEARNING TO BE ABUSIVE DURING CHILDHOOD
The study finds considerable evidence showing that family aggression does in fact increase the chances of abusive behavior in the workplace. This effect goes beyond the anger that is caused by situational factors, organizational mistreatment, demographical variables, or subordinates’ personality. The social learning theory was supported, meaning children who grow up seeing, and surrounded by, family aggression learn that abusive behaviors will produce the outcome they desire.
HOW RUMINATION MAKES THINGS WORSE
The authors also found that rumination, or the tendency to focus and dwell on negative past events, can make things worse. The association between abusive family life and abusive supervision was stronger when these supervisors engaged in more rumination. By focusing on the unpleasant aspects of growing up amidst family aggression and turmoil, supervisors became more likely to think hostile thoughts and experience hostile feelings. This led ruminating supervisors to act more hostile in the workplace.
WHAT CAN ORGANIZATIONS DO?
The importance of this study is that it helps identify the root cause of abusive behavior in the workplace. This is important because abusive supervisors can have strong negative impacts on employees and the company as a whole. Two steps can be taken to decrease the negative outcomes of abusive supervision. The first is to train abusive supervisors through cognitive-behavioral coaching. This may include emotional intelligence training, in order to help supervisors gain control of the angry behavior. Training can also help limit rumination for supervisors, which may help decrease the occurrence of angry thoughts and feelings, even when supervisors are predisposed to have them. The second step that organizations can take is to not let supervisors with abusive potential into the organization in the first place. This can be done by altering the recruitment and selection process to help identify those supervisors who are most likely to lead employees in a positive manner, and not those who are reduced to abusive supervision.