Work-Life Stress Can Lead to Verbal Abuse

New research suggests that some people become verbally abusive when their family life interferes with job performance on a consistent basis.

The verbal abuse may be directed at co-workers or loved ones, say researchers from Michigan State University.

A supportive boss, however, can mitigate the conflict, according to Dr. Chu-Hsiang Chang, an associate professor of psychology at Michigan State University.

“It appears that having a supervisor who is aware and supportive of work-family balance may not only reduce the work-family conflict itself but also weaken its downstream effect on verbal aggression,” said Chang, who co-authored the study with fellow scholars from the U.S. and China.

For the study, Chang and colleagues surveyed 125 employees at five information-technology companies four times each weekday for three consecutive weeks.

The investigation is unique as the research is one of the first to investigate the effects of work-family conflict on negative interpersonal behaviors at work and home.

“We wanted to see if people who experience work-family conflict are less able to suppress their dark tendencies and more apt to act out on their aggressive impulses,” Chang said.

Researchers found that indeed, problems do arise when family life interferes with work. For example, having to miss an important meeting because of a sick child can lead to verbal outbursts.

In these cases, participants reported high emotional exhaustion. This emotional stress leads people to be more rude or verbally abusive toward supervisors, co-workers and family members.

Because supportive supervisors had a positive effect, Chang recommends companies make it a higher priority to select and train managers who can provide family support for employees.

“Supportive managers should model the right behavior¬†— in other words, don’t send your employees emails at 11:00 p.m. and expect them to respond, for example.”

Stress-relieving activities at the worksite and at home can also be beneficial. Employees can engage in emotional and physical “recovery” activities such as a lunch break away from the office or stretching exercises for relaxation, Chang said.

The study has been published online in the Journal of Applied Psychology.

Source: Michigan State University