Time’s Up for Toxic Workplaces

Millions of people face abusive supervisors and bullies at work. These employees are targets of ridicule, threats, or demeaning comments by their manager on a daily basis, which results in decreased satisfaction, productivity, and commitment to the job as well as the organization at large.

While direct interactions with “bad bosses” can be traumatic for employees, the problem often goes further than a single individual. Indeed, some of my own research has shown that abusive behavior, especially when displayed by leaders, can spread throughout the organization, creating entire climates of abuse. Because employees look to and learn from managers, they come to understand that this type of interpersonal mistreatment is acceptable behavior in the company. In essence, employees start to think that “this is how it’s done around here,” and this belief manifests itself in a toxic environment that tolerates abusive acts. More so, studies have even shown that employees who experience abuse from a supervisor are also more inclined to “pass on” this type of treatment in a ripple effect.

As such, the outcomes of destructive workplaces are devastating, harming work teams and individuals alike. For example, in a multi-study effort, my colleagues and I discovered that abusive climates negatively impact a work group’s collective efficacy, which indicates that the team has lost its confidence to adequately perform a given task. Furthermore, abusive work environments destroy important bonds between team members, which further results in reduced performance and citizenship behaviors, meaning that employees are less likely to help and support each other. Toxic workplaces also impair the lives of individuals beyond the work realm. Employees report feeling emotionally drained, experience lower well-being, and even increased conflict at home (i.e., work-family conflict).


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