Many of us have experienced this feeling of being misunderstood or undervalued at work. You do a great job, and you know it, but your manager doesn’t seem to like it. Recent studies have shown that these “bad bosses,” who engage in behaviors such as abuse, bullying and debilitation, have detrimental effects on both employees and businesses. This uncivil behavior in the workplace can lead to decreased job satisfaction, increased health problems, counterproductive employee behaviors, increased withdrawal and higher employee turnover.
Research conducted by myself and my co-authors focuses on a relatively common form of workplace abuse known as supervisor social fragility. This is when a supervisor intentionally tries to hinder an employee’s success at work, interferes with their ability to maintain positive working relationships, and attempts to tarnish their reputation. In this recent study, we explored what aspects of an individual and their work situation can increase the negative effects of being undermined by a supervisor.
So who reacts most severely to the social weakening of supervisors?
We used two studies to assess the effects of social impairment and the types of people most likely to be affected. It was evident that employees with a high baseline self-report, who also have great confidence in managing the workplace, were the most likely to experience heightened stress when undermined. Basic self-assessments mean how much a person thinks they are worth and whether they consider themselves capable of handling difficult tasks and challenges. When faced with a problem, people with a high baseline self-report generally believe, “I can handle this problem.” However, when exposed to the weakening of the boss, they are more likely to become stressed and consider leaving a company.
These negative results can be explained by the theory of self-checking; the idea that people are looking for information that confirms what they think about themselves, to make sure that they feel understood and verified by others. When we are faced with a situation that calls into question how we think about ourselves, then our self-concept is threatened and we can experience stressful results.
The weakening of the supervisor does not confirm the self for those with high baseline self-ratings. These individuals look to their environment to make sense of their treatment. Those who see workplace management as generally untrustworthy see their treatment as a symptom of their environment and not because of themselves. However, employees who perceive workplace management to be trustworthy see their abuse as more personal and ultimately their self-image is threatened, especially since their treatment does not match overall perceptions. of how workplace management treats employees.
The high baseline self-report, high confidence in management employees are more likely to feel misunderstood when undermined by their supervisor, especially at heightened levels of undermining. This is because of the feeling of incomprehension and a lack of self-checking which explains their stronger response to the weakened supervisor.
When our self-concepts are challenged, we may engage in compensatory responses to refute adverse information and regain control. Therefore, individuals with a high baseline self-report and high confidence are more likely to think about leaving the organization, as they actively seek a work environment that confirms their self-image and in which they can thrive. . While these results are negative for organizations, for employees, these results can be adaptive responses that can cause them to be better off and more resilient. Interestingly, although employees who have high self-esteem or high confidence in management are the least likely to experience or report a breach, it is these employees who respond most strongly to the breach when it happens to them. Actually. Unfortunately, it is these employees that companies want to attract and retain; they have high self-esteem, emotional stability, and are considered otherwise resilient although they are more susceptible to supervisor weakening.
These results lay the foundations for future studies to better understand the responses of victims of the social weakening of supervisors and other uncivil work behaviors. More importantly, it is evident that the employees who are most beneficial to a business are the most at risk of experiencing stress and leaving the organization. It is in a company’s best interests to completely reduce workplace impairment to retain the most valuable employees.
But how can companies make sure they keep these employees?
Job selection and reviews, including 360-degree reviews, can be developed to detect undermining managers, as can regular employee engagement surveys that can be linked to specific managers. Managers who are identified as undermining their employees should receive training to improve their leadership abilities. These training programs can be used to educate managers on how to identify harmful behaviors and stop them. If the training fails, the manager may need to be removed from his leadership role altogether.
HR should also strive to create a work environment that fosters beneficial interpersonal interactions, working with management to create a culture of trust and understanding; it is a high level of general confidence in the workplace without the corresponding positive relationship with one’s immediate supervisor which leads some employees to become stressed and ultimately leave the company.
Employees want their assumptions and beliefs tested. Organizations need to act consistently and not create conditions of surprise or uncertainty, so that employees feel understood. A consistently positive environment, with low impact and high trust, will benefit both the company and the employees.
If companies don’t monitor and eliminate the weakening of supervisors, they will continue to lose their best employees. As a result, they will have to spend more time and money on hiring, training and assimilating new employees to replace those who decide to leave.