Bosses who bully workers could push them to act out and even sabotage their duties, researchers have warned.

An international team of researchers found employees who endure what is known as “abusive supervision” are more likely to become workplace saboteurs by purposefully messing up tasks, arriving late, taking excessively long breaks and putting in minimal effort. 

The authors of the study, published in the Journal of Management, sought to answer why horrible bosses make employees less inclined to show what is known as organizational citizenship behavior (OCB), or commitment to the company outside of their contractual obligations. That could including helping colleagues or volunteering for unusual work hours. They also assessed its effect on a worker’s tendency to harm the organization, by displaying counterproductive work behavior (CWB).

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To find out more, and uncover which negative outcome bullying behavior is more likely to stoke, researchers from Southwestern University of Finance and Economics in China, Renmin University of China and Swinburne University of Technology in Australia collaborated and analyzed 427 existing studies. They found workers acted out either because they felt they were being treated unfairly in the workplace, or felt stressed and this affected their ability to perform as expected. An employee who felt they were a victim of injustice tended more towards OCB. Stressed workers, meanwhile, were more associated with CWB. 

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Study co-author Liu-Qin Yang, associate professor of industrial-organizational psychology at Portland State University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, commented in a statement: “Stress is sometimes uncontrollable. You don’t sleep well, so you come in late or take a longer break, lash out at your coworkers or disobey instructions.

“But justice is more rational. Something isn’t fair, so you’re purposely not going to help other people or when the boss asks if anyone can come in on a Saturday to work, you don’t volunteer.”

Employers worried supervisors are affecting productivity can take steps to ease issues by regularly training managers, introducing policies which tackle workplace injustices and helping workers to deal with stress.

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This is not the first study to suggest harsh practices can affect the well-being of workers. The paper follows a study published in the European Heart Journal last year, which showed employees who suffer bullying are more likely to develop cardiovascular diseases (CVD) than those who aren’t.

After analyzing 79,201 men and women aged between 18 to 65, the authors concluded: “Bullying and violence are common at workplaces and those exposed to these stressors are at higher risk of CVD.”  

boss worker employee bully stock getty Researchers believe a bullying boss can cause workers to become unproductive. Getty Images

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