How we retaliate when the boss is a pig

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New research from Florida State University was triggered by this observation:

Considerable attention, both in blogs and in popular media, has been given to abusive bosses over the past few years. (See the Web sites and, for example.) Less discussed are employees’ responses to such behavior. How do employees react to abusive supervisors? Do they simply take what is dished out, or do they actively seek to change the situation?

Wayne Hochwarter, a professor of management at FSU, and research associate Samantha Engelhardt sought to answer those questions by examining the responses of more than 180 employees from a wide variety of professions who reported supervisor abuse.

Here’s how employees reacted to boss abuse:

• 30% of those who reported abuse slowed down or purposely made errors, compared with 6% of those not reporting abuse.

• 27% of those who reported abuse purposely hid from the boss, compared with 4% of those not reporting abuse.

• 33% of those who reported abuse confessed to not putting in maximum effort, compared with 9% of those not reporting abuse.

• 29% of those who reported abuse took sick time off even when not ill, compared with 4% of those not reporting abuse.

• 25% of those who reported abuse took more or longer breaks, compared with 7% of those not reporting abuse.

Basically, abused workers take some act of vengeance on their bosses–by mucking up their work, slacking off or taking crazy long coffee breaks. The point is that employers shouldn’t assume their dictatorial behavior of managers don’t take a significant toll on worker productivity.

What the study doesn’t address is the effect this retaliatory behavior has on the jackass bosses. Did it curb their rants? Cut short their tirades? Transform them into Liz’s boss (see previous post comments)? Doubt it. And because a drop in productivity is harder to quantify than the bully boss’s dazzling annual sales record, the employer typically doesn’t see a problem until after the guy has driven his entire team to the competition.

Here’s one retaliatory action the study didn’t ask about: gossip. In every job I’ve had as a writer, editors who acted irrationally, lobbed mean comments or otherwise sucked at their jobs found that, somehow, their own bosses always found out. The general likes to know when the captain can’t lead his troops. (How do you respond when your boss acts like the village idiot? Do share in the comments.)

Okay, so this is a little extreme, but here’s the kind of boss whose behavior is likely to put a dent in this worker’s productivity: