Bosses Who Bully One Employee Make the Whole Team Suffer

Photo: Twentieth Century Fox

Many bad bosses have a favorite punching bag of an employee, a go-to target that takes the abuse while the rest of the team tries to look like they’re super busy and totally not eavesdropping. But when a boss regularly picks on one employee, the entire team suffers, reports a team of Michigan State University researchers.

Management professor Crystal Farh and her colleagues analyzed verbal abuse and overly harsh emails as reported by 51 teams at ten firms in China; later, the researchers replicated their findings in a lab setting in the U.S., said the press release. The employees who were direct targets of their bosses’ abuse reported feeling undervalued and belittled, and admitted that they didn’t produce as much work as the rest of the team. But their colleagues suffered, too; the people who worked closely with the abused employees reported that their teams tended to do more in-fighting than working.

For companies, Farh said in the press release, this means that once an abusive supervisor has been spotted, the entire team will need help, not just the picked-on employee. Jerk bosses may wield more power than they even realize; no one tell them this. 

When One Employee Is Picked On, Everyone Suffers