Supervisor abuse has ripple effects in workplace: study

A bullying supervisor isn’t hurting just a specific employee. He or she also is creating a negative workplace culture, researchers say.

Job frustration, abuse of other coworkers and a perceived lack of organizational support develop in this culture, says Paul Harvey, Ph.D., an associate professor of management at the University of New Hampshire. The research of Harvey and colleagues is in the Journal of Social Psychology’s first 2013 issue. It’s the first study to look at vicarious supervisory abuse.

Abusive supervision was defined as “sustained display of hostile verbal and nonverbal behaviors, excluding physical contact.” Examples of vicarious abuse could include witnessing a coworker being berated; hearing rumors about abusive behavior from a coworker; or reading about it in an email.

Researchers looked at 233 people who worked in various occupations in the Southeast U.S. While the researchers did not separate out those who work in healthcare, Harvey said that it’s not a leap to assume vicarious abuse could be detrimental to patients.

“Part of what we think is happening is an emotional contagion effect, where victims of abuse (understandably) bring their anger, frustration, and depression into the rest of the workplace, bringing down the emotional climate that everyone else experiences,” he told McKnight’s