Disgruntled employee 311.
(photo credit: (Nick White/Thinkstock)
Disgruntled employees who think their bosses are abusive shoot themselves in the
foot if they avoid any contact with them, according to new stress research from
the University of Haifa.
The study, conducted by Prof. Dana Yagil with
Prof. Hasida Ben-Zur and Inbal Tamir, of the faculty of social welfare
and health sciences, queried 300 workers on whether, and how often, they
suffered abuse by their employer.
The study assessed the psychological
mechanisms employees use to cope with the stress of abusive treatment from a
supervisor and how effective those tools are in terms of employee
Confronting an abusive boss is easier said than done, the
researchers said. Workers coping with the stress of verbal abuse prefer to avoid
direct communication even though it would be the most effective tactic in terms
of emotional well-being, they said.
“Abusive supervision is highly
distressing for employees.
Our study shows that the strategies being used
by employees to cope with the stress caused by such behavior do not lead to the
most positive outcomes,” said Yagil.
Earlier studies have examined the
effect of abusive supervision on employee performance, but the new study set out
to determine the effect of the different coping strategies on employee
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The team examined five types of strategies to cope with the
stress factor of abusive treatment – directly communicating with the abusive
supervisor to discuss the problems; using forms of ingratiation, such as doing
favors, using flattery and compliance; seeking support from others; avoiding
contact with the supervisor; and “reframing,” or mentally restructuring, the
abuse in a way that decreases its threat.
The participants were asked to
rate the frequency of experiencing ridicule, invasion of privacy, rudeness and
They were also asked to rate the frequency of engaging in each of
25 strategies that belong to the five categories.
For example: “I tell
the supervisor directly that he/she must not treat me like that” (direct
communication category); “I support the supervisor in matters that are important
to him/her, so that he/she will see I am on his/her side” (ingratiation); “I try
to have the least possible contact with the supervisor” (avoidance of contact);
“I relieve myself by talking to other people about the supervisors behavior”
(support-seeking); and “I remind myself that there are more important matters in
my life” (reframing).
The study found that abusive treatment from a
superior was most strongly associated with disengaging from the supervisor as
much as possible, and to seeking social support.
Abusive supervision was
least strongly associated with the strategy of direct
Communication with the supervisor, which employees do
less, was the strategy most strongly related to employees positive
It is understandable that employees wish to reduce their
contact with an abusive boss to a minimum, said Yagil, but this strategy further
increases the employee’s stress because it is associated with a sense of
weakness and perpetuates their fear of the supervisor.”
that managers should be alert to signs of employee detachment, as it might
indicate that their own behavior is being considered offensive by those
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