Study Shows Office Bullying Affects Work Environments

By: Jenna Savage


It’s a familiar concept – bullying leads to negativity. Research in the past has found that victims of bullying and those who witness the abuse both suffer from consequences. But that’s an area of study that is primarily concerned with children in home and school environments. However, it turns out the bullying chain isn’t limited to children, according to a press release published by the University of New Hampshire (UNH). Research now shows that bosses who bully their employees create hostile and negative office environments, where vicarious abuse and job frustration are rampant.

UNH researcher Paul Harvey, along with colleagues from Indiana University Southeast and New Mexico State University, studied 233 people from a variety of professions. The participants had worked for their companies for 10 years and had held their positions for seven years. They worked approximately 46 hours weekly.

Results showed that supervisory abuse, which is characterized by hostile behavior, led to coworker abuse, job frustration, and a tendency to take out that frustration on others. If coworkers received both supervisory and coworker abuse, the negative effects were amplified. In addition, those who were abused were more likely to be unhappy with their jobs and the unhealthy environment in which they worked.

The study, which is published in the Journal of Social Psychology, also found that the emotional wounds caused by the abuse are long-lasting – for both victims and the victims’ coworkers. Even those who had not been direct victims suffered from vicarious abuse, which is defined as the awareness of a boss’ abuse of another through bearing witness or hearing rumors. Those who experience vicarious abuse also find their work environments to be toxic, despite not experiencing the abuse directly.

Increasing job frustration is correlated with decreased productivity. As a result, abusive bosses do not create a job atmosphere conducive to morale and the desired outcome. Especially problematic is the fact that abuse may continue for a long time, without being reported.

Those who suffer from abuse are recommended to report it. Management officials who use aversive methods to try and motivate their employees are recommended to reassess their strategies. In addition, the researchers believe that the results of this study show a need for increased education on proper employee supervision. Learning about more effective methods of management can lead to a more efficient work environment for all involved.

Seminars on supervisory abuse, vicarious abuse, and the long-lasting consequences could also be beneficial, as they may help bosses and supervisors see that when it comes to productivity, hostility is not the way to get results.