Is your boss a bully? Workplace safety could worsen under their leadership

Bullies are common in the workplace and can ruin people’s careers and lives.
Bullies are common in the workplace and can ruin people’s careers and lives.

Healthy workplaces don’t simply entail a workplace that is physically safe and without risk to health. A new Portland State University study has found that employees' safety behaviour can become compromised when they're treated in ways that weaken their bonds within a work group.

The study, published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, was carried out by Liu-Qin Yang, an associate professor of industrial-organisational psychology in PSU's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and her co-authors, and surveyed airline pilots and manufacturing technicians.

Uncertainty within a group

Yang explained that while a boss's behaviour can strengthen an employee’s sense of belonging to a work group by supporting their status within the group, undermining them can have the exact opposite effect and weaken their sense of well-being.

Read: Toxic employers face jail as South Korea tackles workplace bullying

The study also found that poor treatment from a boss can lead to employees becoming more self-centred, causing them to occasionally forget to comply with safety rules or overlook opportunities to promote a safer work environment. This was especially true among employees who were more uncertain about their social standing within the group.

"When people are less sure about their status within a group, they become more sensitive," she said. "They will be more likely to respond negatively to their boss' bullying behaviours."

Fewer negative consequences

Yang added that 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.

Read: Office horror stories: Workers tell of trauma at the hands of office psychopaths and bullies

"Organisations need to understand how important it is to curb leaders' bad behaviour and to create positive team dynamics, so that there will be fewer negative safety consequences for employees or customers," she said. 

"It's really critical to manage such leader behaviour, support victimised employees and prevent such issues."

The study also recommends ways to create a positive workplace space by implementing training programmes that can improve leaders' skills in interacting with their employees, and transparent performance evaluation processes so employees have more certainty about their social status in the workplace.

Image: iStock

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