Sneaky Revenge: How Employees Respond to Horrible Bosses
On many Fridays here at the Kimono, we share a bad boss story. And we’ve had some real zingers! One of our personal favorites is the guy that made his employees wear ankle weights as part of his commitment to the company-wide wellness program. Don’t believe us? See HERE. It got us thinking of what some of the true ramifications are of bad, horrible, and not-so-good bosses. Thankfully, Professors Zellars, Tepper, and Duffy offer some insight in a provocative Journal of Applied Psychology piece that can be found HERE.
These three professors lay out the following argument: Bad supervisors piss us off. We want revenge and want to strike back. But, we can’t directly tell our supervisors to step off because that usually results in a pink slip. So, we think of other, more devious ways, to get even. And, if we can’t take it out on an individual, like our boss, just maybe, we can stick it to our employer. Specifically, the authors hypothesize that we dial back our discretionary behaviors that may benefit the organization. They call this OCB (Organizational Citizenship Behaviors). Basically, it’s doing the above-and-beyond type of stuff like helping out a coworker when you don’t have to or solving a problem for the organization that’s outside your swim lane. You know—all the stuff that make you a superhero employee.
To test this logic, they joined the military. Well, kind of. They took to the air to survey 373 Air National Guard supervisors and subordinates and used fancy tools like regression analysis to show us the way. And, speaking of the Air National Guard, let’s begin with Captain Obvious. They found that subordinates of abusive bosses performed fewer discretionary or citizenship type of behaviors than those that had wonderful bosses. However, there’s a caveat. Some employees believe that everything is their job. In other words, they can’t fight back against abusive supervisors because in their minds, nothing is discretionary—it’s all mandatory. And, we all know the type. These are the ones that make us look bad because they always do all of their job plus most of ours.
But, wait, there’s more. The authors of this study found that subordinate willingness to hold back on discretionary or extra work behaviors was based, in large part, on whether the organization demonstrated what the authors termed procedural unfairness. To put it in caveman terms, when the organization had procedures to deal with abusive supervisors but chose not to follow them or followed them unevenly, subordinates got really pissed off. Like HULK angry. In these situations, they would take it out on the organization by dialing back and, most certainly, not going the extra mile on behalf of their employer.
Pretend this is a fable. With learning lessons. First, don’t be a jerk as a boss. If you’re one, get help. Because you’ll rarely get employees to take that extra step if you’re one of those. Lastly, if the organization offers up rules and procedures to deal with abusive supervisors, it should follow them and follow them across the board. To do otherwise, lights the match that fuels and flames this fire.
If you’re still reading this, THANK YOU but get back to work quick as we hear your abusive boss in the background.