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Is your boss a bully? IU Southeast study shows direct reports aren’t the only victims

NEW ALBANY, IN, (Feb. 9, 2013) – A recent IU Southeast study shows that the actions of a bully boss damage the demeanor of an entire office – not just the intended victims.

The study, co-authored by IU Southeast business professors Ken Harris and Ranida Harris, examined the effects of abusive supervision among hundreds of employees in various fields.

“We found that the effects of abusive supervision were bad, but people who experienced it vicariously also experienced negative outcomes,” Ken Harris said. “Additionally, workers who reported both first-hand and vicarious abusive supervision experienced the most negative outcomes.”

Abusive supervision includes being rude, giving the silent treatment, or talking badly about someone in front of others, Harris said. The study found that just hearing about such abuse or seeing it used against a co-worker can be just as damaging as experiencing it firsthand. 

The result of such behavior by a boss often leads to extreme frustration and lack of organizational support among employees.

“Top management needs further education regarding the potential impacts of vicarious abuse supervision on employees to prevent and/or mitigate the effects of such abuse,” the researchers said.

The study, co-authored by Paul Harvey from the University of New Hampshire and IU Southeast alumna Melissa Cast, now at New Mexico State University, was recently published in the Journal of Social Psychology.

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