A new Portland State University study suggests that bosses who bully their staff may be making their workplaces less safe.
The study, which was published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, surveyed 468 manufacturing technicians and 589 airline pilots to get a sense of how workplace relationships affect safety behaviour.
Associate Professor and co-author of the study, Liu-Qin Yang, found that employees’ safety behaviour can be worsened when they’re treated in ways that detract from their bonds to a work group.
Yang said that bosses’ behaviours can strengthen or weaken employees’ sense of belonging to the work group by supporting or undermining their status within the group. Poor treatment from a boss can make employees feel that they’re not valued by a group. As a result, they can become more self-centred, leading them to occasionally forget to comply with safety rules or overlook opportunities to promote a safer work environment.
Yang said this was especially true among employees who were more uncertain about their social standing within the group.
“When people are less sure about their strengths and weaknesses and their status within a group, they become more sensitive. They’re more likely to respond negatively to their boss’ bullying behaviours.”
Yang said workplace safety is a critical issue — and more so in an environment where one employee’s failure to behave safely can create circumstances where other people are likely to be injured.
“Organizations need to understand how important it is to curb leaders’ bad behavior and to create positive team dynamics, so that there will be fewer negative safety consequences for employees or customers.”
“It’s really critical to manage such leader behaviour, support victimized employees and prevent such issues.”
- Implement training programs that can improve leaders’ skills in interacting with their employees, so as to provide feedback and discipline in ways that are neither offensive nor threatening.
- Promote a more civil and engaged work environment that strengthens social bonds between employees and creates a buffer against the negative consequences of their boss’ bad behaviours.
- Implement transparent performance evaluation processes so employees have less uncertainty about their social status in the workplace.