Workplace abuse trickles down

A new study published in the current issue of Personnel Psychology finds that supervisors engage in more abusive behavior when they perceive that the organization they work for is using unfair decision-making to allocate valued resources. If a company doesn't seem neutral or respectful when distributing benefits and other attractive incentives, the boss may become rude, assign blame, or publicly ridicule those that report to him or her. Perceived company injustices can lead a supervisor into depression and that can translate into abuse. The authors find that this abuse is strategic. "Specifically, perpetrators tend to abuse subordinates who come across as weak and vulnerable--subordinates who project the image that they are unlikely to fight back," they explain.

The study collected data from a sample of National Guard members and their military supervisors. The participant's service included (but was not limited to) activities such as health care, engineering, administrative, and technical and non-technical training. Subordinates completed a survey measuring the amount of abusive supervision they experienced and how anxious or distressed they were. The supervisors completed a survey measuring how just they perceived their organization to be and their level of depression. "Organizations seeking to reduce hostility and aggression in the workplace may need to begin with the fair treatment of supervisors," the authors conclude.

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This study is published in the Spring issue of Personnel Psychology. Media wishing to receive a PDF of this article, please contact journalnews@bos.blackwellpublishing.net. Personnel Psychology publishes applied psychological research on personnel problems facing public and private sector organizations. Articles deal with all human resource topics, training and development, performance and career management, diversity, leadership, rewards and recognition, and work attitudes and motivation.

Bennett J. Tepper is a professor of Managerial Sciences at J. Mack Robinson College of Business, Georgia State University. He has written extensively on abusive supervision in organizations. Dr. Tepper is available for media questions and interviews.

Michelle K. Duffy, Christine A. Henle, and Lisa Schurer Lambert co-authored the study.

Blackwell Publishing is the world's leading society publisher, partnering with 665 academic and professional societies. Blackwell publishes over 800 journals and, to date, has published more than 6,000 books, across a wide range of academic, medical, and professional subjects.


Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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