Bullying bosses can worsen workplace safety, study reveals

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Bullying can be bad for workplace safety, authors of a new study reveals. A new study found that bullying bosses are not just bad for employee morale but can also worsen workplace safety.

According to the authors of the study, workers who are being bullied can overlook safety.

Liu-Qin Yang, an associate professor of industrial-organisational psychology in the Portland State University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and her co-authors surveyed airline pilots and manufacturing technicians and found that employees behaviour can worsen when they are treated in ways that detract from their bonds to a work group.

Yang said that the behaviours of bosses can greatly affect a worker’s sense of belonging to the work group by supporting or undermining their status within the group. Poor treatment from a boss can make employees feel that they are not valued and thus, can become more self-centered, leading them to occasionally forget to comply with safety rules or overlook opportunities to promote a safer work environment.

The authors said this is especially true among workers who were more uncertain about their social standing within the group.

“When people are less sure about their strengths and weaknesses and their status within a group, they become more sensitive,” Yang said.

She said safety is an important issue predominantly in an environment where one worker’s failure to behave safely can create circumstances where other people are likely to be injured.

“Organisations need to understand how important it is to curb leaders’ bad behaviour and to create positive team dynamics, so that there will be fewer negative safety consequences for employees or customers,” Yang said. “It’s really critical to manage such leader behaviour, support victimized employees and prevent such issues.”

The study recommends:

  • Implementing training programs to improve leaders’ skills in interacting with their employees, so as to provide feedback and discipline in ways that are neither offensive nor threatening
  • Promoting a more civil and engage work environment that strengthens social bonds between employees and creates a buffer against the negative consequences of their boss’ bad behaviours
  • Implementing transparent performance evaluation processes so employees have less uncertainty about their social status in the workplace

Co-authors of this study include Xiaoming Zheng from Tsinghua University, Xin Liu from Renming University, Chang-qin Lu from Peking University, and John Schaubroeck from Michigan State University.

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