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.
How Leadership Styles and Fairness Can Help Increase Job Performance
Stress is an inevitable part of working life within any organization. Every employee encounters different types of stressful situations, which ultimately shape our attitudes towards, and perceptions of, the organization we work for. The authors of “It’s Not Fair….Or Is It? The Role Of Justice And Leadership In Explaining Work Stressor-Job Performance Relationships” proposed that people encounter two types of stress in the workplace, which includes challenge stressors and hindrance stressors.
Challenge stressors consist of stress related to workload, the levels of complexity of a job and time constraints. These stresses are common in most jobs, and can be considered to be a normal part of any work environment. Employees feel that even though Challenge stressors can be burdensome, the employee will ultimately receive some sort of “reward.”
Hindrance stressors consist of stress related to ambiguity within the workplace, which involves roles and responsibilities not being clearly defined. It is also related to office politics and unnecessary red tape within the organization. In essence, Hindrance stressors add unnecessary burden on an employee without any perceived benefit.
The researchers acknowledged that both forms of stress can cause an employee mental fatigue and affect job performance. But employees generally have a better acceptance of Challenge stressors because, in the long term, this type of stress can be beneficial for developing our ability to cope with stressful work environments. The study found that different leadership styles within an organization can also have an impact on an employee’s stress level.
Transactional Leadership focuses on a transactional exchange between the organization’s leader and its employees. Generally, leadership will provide employees with specific deadlines, goals and objectives to complete. Employees can usually expect a system of rewards or punishment in regards to completion of their tasks under specified criteria.
Transformational Leadership focuses communicating the vision, mission and direction of the company to those within the organization. It can also include getting the “buy in” from employees regarding the direction of the organization and allowing them to have an invested stake in the company. In short, it’s effective for empowering employees.
The types of stress and leadership we encounter within the workplace can shape whether we perceive the actions of the organization’s leadership as being fair or not. This concept of fairness is described as Organizational Justice.
In other words, do we feel that we are being properly compensated for the work stress we endure? If we do not feel that the stress we encounter is “just,” then it is bound to negatively impact our overall job performance. As a result, if an employee feels the stress is unwarranted, they will take steps to avoid unnecessary mental fatigue.
CONNECTION BETWEEN LEADERSHIP STYLES, FAIRNESS & JOB PERFORMANCE
To examine the connection between leadership styles, fairness and job performance, researchers performed a study consisting of 339 employees and 88 supervisors.
Employees were asked about their attitudes and beliefs regarding their supervisors and job. They were measured on several items that focused on challenge, hindrance stressors and organizational justice. Questions regarding challenge stressors focused on workload, time constraints and complexity of projects. Hindrance stressors included items such as red tape, contradictory instructions, ambiguous responsibilities and office politics. Organizational justice questions focused on promotions, pay and perceptions of procedures used to reach various outcomes.
After three weeks, the supervisors were contacted and asked to rate the job performance for the employees who completed the first survey. Supervisors were asked how the employees faired in regards to completing their tasks, level of involvement with the company, behavior that could be considered “destructive” to the work environment and ability to creatively come up solutions to improve overall performance.
RESULTS OF THE STUDY
The study led to some interesting findings, which included:
- Organizational justice (fairness) buffers the impact of Hindrance stressors, largely avoiding negative impacts on job performance.
- Greater exposure to transactional leadership can indirectly serve as a buffer for negative Hindrance stressors, having less of a negative impact on job performance.
- Greater exposure to transformational leadership can indirectly impact Challenge stressors’ effect on job performance through improved organizational justice.
BIG PICTURE TAKEAWAYS
Reading this article, I found two major takeaways from the research:
The study found that transactional leadership affects an employee’s view of fairness, which indirectly lessens the negative impact of Hindrance stressors, but does not do the same for Challenge stressors. Basically, transactional leaders provide a clearly defined set of rewards and punishment regarding tasks, which allows employees to know precisely where they stand.
The study also found that transformational leadership affects an employee’s view of fairness, which lessens the stress associated with Challenge stressors, but does not do the same for Hindrance stressors. A transformational leader helps employees take ownership of their work, and the employee, in turn, sees Challenge stressors as opportunities for them to grow within their role and improve the organization. Transformational leaders are not as effective with Hindrance stressors because employees may view them as “out of touch.” They don’t address the bureaucracy, as they are more focused on big picture objectives.
In the end, the article makes a case that transformational and transactional leaders both have their place. This supports previous research suggesting that the best leaders have aspects that are both transactional and transformational. Having a leader that is able to inspire employees with big picture objectives while also providing enough structure to reduce ambiguity provides a sense of balance within an organization. By offering a more balanced work environment, these leaders can help reduce the negative impacts stress has on an organization, which ultimately helps to increase job performance among employees.
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.
How Well-Connected Leaders Help Foster Creativity
In recent years organizations have increasingly come to recognize the importance of fostering innovation and creativity. The problem is, how?
New research suggests that the key might be dependent on the size of team leaders’ social networks. By working with leaders who have substantial social networks within the organization, employees are granted access to more resources, ideas, and strategies to utilize in creative ways.
STUDYING WELL-CONNECTED LEADERS
The new study, published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, examined 214 employees working in public technology and environmental services. The research focused on the impact of the social networks of the leaders and employees involved, as well as instances of radical creativity.
The study found that it’s important that leaders be connected to the members of their team, but equally important that they be well-connected outside the team as well.
Leaders with expansive connections beyond the scope of the immediate work team provide access to a broader variety of resources, including new perspectives and ideas which the leader can then pass on to their team.
WHY A WIDE SOCIAL NETWORK MATTERS
The importance of having a wide social network as a team leader hinges on the value of providing a broad-view strategy for employees. The more people a team leader knows, the more connected they become to Big Picture concepts rather than focusing solely on the current thoughts within a team.
Of course, it’s not enough for the leader to merely make new connections. They also need to focus on sharing the insights and strategies these connections provide. By sharing diverse perspectives, team leaders can help battle the creative stagnancy that often happens with teams over time.
This research suggests that employee social networks can also be instrumental if they serve as liaison to individuals outside the team, especially when their leaders are less integral to the team or are not stepping up to the plate. But the interplay between employee and leader social networks needs to be better explored in the future in order to fully understand the different impacts of each.
BIG PICTURE TAKEAWAYS
The important info organizational leaders can glean from this research is that creativity is fostered by connectivity to others in the organization.
Access to additional outside perspectives help to provide unique resources and ideas that could lead to innovative creative development.
This research also supports the notion of a connected organization wherein ideas are shared freely between leaders in order to stimulate the creativity of the entire company.
Leading Virtual Teams: An Investigation of Leadership and Structural Supports
Due to increasingly sophisticated technologies, organizational globalization and flexible work structures, virtual teams are steadily growing in popularity.
By definition, virtual teams are those that work remotely or, even if in a similar vicinity, communicate via largely electronic means. These teams never, or very rarely, have face-to-face meetings.
There are varying degrees of virtuality, which can be increased by distance and culture differences. The researchers behind a new study on Leading Virtual Teams wanted to understand how leadership and structural factors lead to better performance as virtuality increases.
There are two prominent leadership theories in this context that have been shown to positively affect performance– Transformational Leadership and Leader Member Exchange. The researchers argued that Supervisor Career Mentoring also related to various positive outcomes. These three constructs comprised the hierarchal leadership model the researchers set out to investigate.
The study found that as virtuality increased, the impact of hierarchal leadership on team performance decreased, because practicing these forms of leadership proved harder in virtual formats. It was at this point that the researchers formulated their opinion that supplementing virtual team leadership with various structural supports could help enhance overall performance.
The researchers were interested in examining how shared leadership and structural supports might affect the overall performance of virtual teams when hierarchical leadership proved difficult.
Shared leadership is the idea that various members of the team engage in leadership-type behaviors. Although not necessarily the same as the supervisor’s actions, these team members promote behaviors that facilitate cohesion and team process, which are critical for high performance.
Shared leadership has been shown to enhance the cognitive, affective and behavioral functioning of teams. So when trust and cohesion are difficult due to the virtual nature of the team, such shared leadership behaviors can enhance positive team dynamics.
Structural supports are more indirect means of influencing a team. They deal with leadership substitutes through organizational and task structures, and can compensate for (or add value to) different leadership styles/models.
Due to the fact that working in virtual teams can be wrought with uncertainty and constant change, the researchers decided to explore the positive effect that structural support could have when hierarchical leadership falls short within a virtual context.
The structural supports of primary interest included proper rewards, communication and information management, each of which was found to help increase performance as virtuality increased.
TAKEAWAYS ON LEADING VIRTUAL TEAMS
The study found that, while leading virtual teams brings with it certain unique challenges, these challenges can be overcome by choosing alternative methods to traditional hierarchical leadership.
In short, management and leaders who want to mitigate their loss of positive influence due to the virtual nature of the team can supplement with various structural supports and encourage shared leadership for best results.
The Secret Recipe for Good Workplace Conflict
The term “Workplace Conflict” sounds ominous. It conjures up images of yelling, screaming, finger pointing and, in rare cases, hunkering down under makeshift table forts and lobbing used Styrofoam cups at rival camps.
But can workplace conflict occasionally be good? New research by Todorova, Bear, and Weingart (2014) has found that, under the right circumstances, frequent workplace conflict can lead to an exchange of valuable information and, eventually, to higher job satisfaction.
TYPES OF WORKPLACE CONFLICT
Employees who express differing opinions about how work should be done are engaging in “task conflict.”
There are two different ways they can do this. When intense conflict occurs, employees “clash and argue,” and typically spend more time defending their own opinions than listening to the other side. Naturally, this doesn’t often lead to any good outcomes.
But employees can also engage in mild conflict, which is characterized by “debating and expressing.” In this scenario, employees are still arguing, but they are also listening to the other side in an honest attempt to solve the problem. This type of conflict can lead to more positive results.
HOW MILD WORKPLACE CONFLICT LEADS TO INFORMATION
The current study found that frequent mild task conflict provides employees with new information that will ultimately help them succeed at their jobs. For example, after debating about the best way to file records, a secretary may learn a more efficient way of doing his or her job.
And what happens when people get better at their jobs? The researchers found that they are more likely to feel active, energized, interested and excited. These positive emotions about work lead to higher overall job satisfaction.
The positive effects of frequent mild task conflict are stronger in two different circumstances.
The first is when conflict occurs in an active learning environment, which is when employees experiment, reflect and use feedback in an attempt to discuss results and improve work processes. This learning environment communicates to employees that conflict is meant to be constructive, helping them learn to improve at their jobs. Accordingly, employees respond well and feel good about learning new information.
Secondly, when mild task conflict occurs between people who work in different functions, more novel information is shared and employees respond better. The study found that, when task conflict occurs between people who work in the same job, there is simply not as much new information to be gained.
GOOD WORKPLACE CONFLICT
This article helps leaders understand how to use workplace conflict to the benefit of both their employees and the workplace. Here’s a simple guide to having more productive workplace conflict:
- Conflict should be task-related and about how to do work, and not interpersonal.
- Conflict should be kept to mild expressions of debate, and not intense arguing.
- Conflict works best in a learning environment, which is when employees are actively engaged in discussing and improving work processes.
- Conflict provides best results when it is between people who have very different organizational functions.
The Pitfalls of Inconsistent Leader Behavior
Bad boss alert! Let’s say your supervisor was incensed with the results of yesterday’s baseball or football game. As a result, today he’s been condescending, hypercritical, and an all-around sourpuss. Can he make up for it by being extra nice and helpful to you tomorrow?
When your boss behaves in a way that makes your job difficult (like being overly critical or short-tempered), it’s called supervisor undermining, which can negatively impact employee health and well-being. After a good night’s sleep, the boss feels bad about the inappropriate behavior and poor management, and tries to make it up to you by providing extra assistance at a later time.
New research by Nahum-Shani, Lim, Henderson, and Vinokur (2014) has found two situations in which Inconsistent Leader Behavior can work well, and two others in which this approach can backfire and make things even worse.
INCONSISTENT LEADER BEHAVIOR
When supervisors undermine their employees and then try to make up for it by being extra helpful, the inconsistent behavior creates uncertainty for the employees.
Three bad things can happen as a result. First, employees will lack a coherent picture of how well they are doing at their job, which can be confusing and/or frustrating. Second, employees will lose a sense of control over their work environment. And third, employees will have doubts about the quality of their relationship with their supervisor.
But the current study shows that, if the employees can overcome these three obstacles, the supervisor’s strategy can actually work.
EMPLOYEES WHO CAN OVERCOME INCONSISTENT LEADER BEHAVIOR
The researchers found that two types of employees can overcome the challenges associated with supervisor inconsistency: Those with high self-esteem and those who perceive a high “quality of work life.” High quality work life occurs when the resources, relationships, and outcomes of their work satisfy the employee’s needs.
The study found that when high self-esteem and high quality of work life employees were exposed to inconsistent leader behavior, they used coping skills to mitigate its harmful effects. When supervisors tried to rectify poor behavior with considerate behavior, these employees benefited from the turnaround, experiencing better health and fewer job strains.
On the other hand, employees who had low self-esteem or experienced poor quality of work life didn’t have the coping skills to deal with inconsistent leader behavior. With this group, bosses who tried to rectify poor behavior with considerate behavior actually created more problems by being inconsistent. These employees experienced worse health and more job strains.
Oftentimes managers are trained to provide careful attention and consideration to their employees, especially when they know they have previously messed up.
But this study warns against this one-size-fits-all approach, suggesting the strategy only works if employees can handle the negative effects of inconsistent supervision. If they can’t handle it, managers are only making things worse.
New research like this is helping I-O psychologists determine how to maximize the benefits to all employees by recognizing that employees are unique and don’t all respond the same way.
Breaking the Mold: How Challenging Gender Stereotypes Reduces Bias
As the result of a recent study, researchers in the United Kingdom have some intriguing news for women interested in organizational leadership roles. Their core message is, “Don’t conform to gender stereotypes!”
CHALLENGING GENDER STEREOTYPES
The three experiments– which were conducted by Carola Leicht, Georgina Randsley de Moura and Richard J. Crisp– suggested that being exposed to people who defy gender stereotypes makes it much harder to fall back on stereotyping in order to make decisions about leadership. Their study focused specifically on women who defy feminine stereotypes, such as a female engineer, for example.
WHY “GOING AGAINST TYPE” WORKS
The study found that job candidates who did not fit the mold of “the typical woman” were generally viewed more objectively. This resulted in more fair decisions during the selection process, and a general reduction in gender bias.
After being exposed to counter-stereotype individuals, snap judgments about the applicant became less clear. As a result, hiring managers tended to treat these applicants as unique individuals rather than using preconceptions based on their gender.
Most intriguingly, this effect meant that these game-changing women were more likely to be chosen for leadership roles and generally encouraged less bias in the evaluation of their leadership abilities.
POSSIBLE APPLICATIONS IN THE WORKPLACE
There are a number of key takeaways from this study. First and foremost, organizations should clearly encourage objectivity and cognitive flexibility rather than relying on stereotypes to make judgments about others.
The research suggests that more effective diversity training can lead to innovation and change, and that exposure to those that break the stereotypical mold can provide inspiration for other women. It also provides a deeper understanding to the difficult issue of the “glass cliff,” wherein women are selected as leaders primarily in times of crisis.
Lastly, it suggests that effective executive coaching can (and should) encourage women who seek leadership roles to challenge expectations in order to decrease the use of stereotyping in leadership selection.
Leadership Self-Efficacy: The Key to Leaders’ Reactions to Challenging Experiences
Many researchers believe that leadership is a skill learned through experience—specifically, through overcoming challenging experiences.
Studies show that challenging leaders is beneficial, because it causes them to demonstrate more engagement, skill, motivation, and transformational leadership behaviors.
However, the fact is that leaders occasionally respond negatively to challenges. But this outcome is rarely studied within the usual theories of leader development.
According to the authors of a new study on how developmental challenge differentially impacts leader behavior, Leadership Self-Efficacy helps determine whether leaders will respond to challenges positively or negatively.
When leaders believe that they are capable of responding to challenges– that is, when they have high Leadership Self-Efficacy– they tend to cope successfully. This, in turn, promotes more engagement and effective behaviors, such as those associated with transformational leadership.
On the other hand, leaders who have low Leadership Self-Efficacy, and don’t believe that they can respond effectively to challenges, exhibit more signs of emotional exhaustion, avoidance, and disengagement. These are the behaviors typically associated with laissez-faire leadership.
ENGAGEMENT VS. EXHAUSTION
The authors of the study tested their hypotheses on junior and mid-level managers from a Fortune 500 financial services company over the course of four months.
They found that challenging jobs related to both engagement and exhaustion. When leaders were engaged, they reported a greater number of transformational leadership behaviors. But when leaders were emotionally exhausted, they reported a greater number of laissez-faire leadership behaviors.
Leadership Self-Efficacy didn’t seem to play a role when the challenges were met constructively. However, those with low Leadership Self-Efficacy who responded negatively to challenging situations were much more likely to report greater emotional exhaustion and a numerous laissez-faire leadership behaviors.
THE BIG PICTURE TAKEAWAY
The results of this study suggest that challenging assignments are useful as leader development tools, particularly for leaders who have high Leadership Self-Efficacy.
But there is also an inherent risk: Leaders who are unsure of their abilities may not benefit from tackling challenging assignments. Instead, the challenge may lead to emotional exhaustion and more laissez-faire behaviors—results which could negatively affect the organization by leading to poor performance, burnout, high turnover, and other problems.
However, providing coaching or mentoring programs designed to improve leaders’ self-efficacy may help low-Leadership Self-Efficacy leaders gain the coping skills they need in order to grow from challenging experiences.
How Shared Leadership Impacts Team Effectiveness
Understanding the relationship between leadership and team effectiveness in the workplace has always been important. Recently, a new type of leadership known as Shared Leadership has become more widely used.
WHAT IS SHARED LEADERSHIP?
Shared leadership refers to two or more people who share both their influence and responsibilities, rather than having just one person leading a team.
Although shared leadership is becoming much more common, “A meta-analysis of shared leadership and team effectiveness” is the first in-depth article to examine whether it matters what the leaders are sharing, and if this can impact the overall effectiveness of the team.
Shared leadership is compared in this article to another type of leadership, which is known as vertical leadership. The approaches differ somewhat, in that shared leadership consists only of a downward influence from the leaders, whereas vertical leadership includes influences from upward, downward, or even from other peers.
DIFFERENT LEADERSHIP STYLES
The article analyzed 42 different studies measuring the impact of shared leadership on team effectiveness. The main focus was on examining three different categories of leadership styles: new-genre, traditional, and cumulative.
New-genre leadership can be thought of as a visionary type of leading, where traits such as empowering and charismatic traits are the focus. Traditional leadership is more transactional, focused on supportive leading and an initiating structure. Finally, cumulative leadership is when all the various leadership styles are molded together.
This article found that using new-genre leadership or cumulative leadership generally has a more positive impact on team effectiveness than traditional leadership styles.
THE BIG PICTURE
The big picture takeaway from this article is that the more complex a team’s work is, the stronger the effects of shared leadership will be. In other words, if a team is working on an incredibly difficult task, the shared leadership style will have a more significant impact on their effectiveness in tackling that task.
In short, if a team is working on a complex task, it is ideal to use either a new-genre or a cumulative style of shared leadership, rather than a traditional style.