Deal with a hostile boss with reciprocity: study

Research infers such employees felt less psychological distress, more job satisfaction.

Ians January 22, 2015
Employees, who returned hostility, did it by ignoring their boss and giving just half-hearted effort. STOCK IMAGE

NEW YORK: If your boss is hostile, there appear to be benefits to reciprocating. A new study shows that employees felt less like victims when they retaliated against their bad bosses and, as a result, experienced less psychological distress, more job satisfaction and more commitment to their employer.

“Before we did this study, I thought there would be no upside to employees who retaliated against their bosses, but that’s not what we found,” said Bennett Tepper, professor of management and human resources at the Ohio State University, United States. “Employees felt better about themselves because they didn’t just sit back and take the abuse,” he added.

Employees, who returned hostility, did it by ignoring their boss, acting like they did not know what their bosses were talking about and giving just half-hearted effort. The research, published online in the journal Personnel Psychology, involved data from two related studies that the researchers conducted.

The first study asked participants to rate how often their supervisors did things, such as ridiculing them and telling them that their “thoughts and feelings are stupid.” Results showed that when bosses were hostile, but employees did not retaliate, the workers had higher levels of psychological distress, less satisfaction with their jobs and less commitment to their employer. “However, those employees who returned the hostility didn’t see those negative consequences,” Tepper said.

In the second study, researchers did an online survey of 371 people. Results showed that employees who reciprocated the hostility were less likely to identify themselves as victims. They were then less likely to report psychological distress and more likely to be satisfied with, and committed to, their jobs.

Fighting against your boss may seem like a risky career move. “But in our survey, employees did not believe their actions hurt their career,” said Tepper. The message should not be that employees should automatically retaliate against a horrible boss. “The real answer is to get rid of hostile bosses by using other coping strategies,” he stated. 

Published in The Express Tribune, January 23rd,  2015.

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