Abusive Workplace Behavior Affects Home Life

The effects of abusive bosses go beyond the workplace, with employee irritability often transferred to a partner and family at home, according to a new study published by Baylor University in the Personnel Psychology Journal.

Though it's no news that jobs and workplace relationships affect morale and overall mental and physical health, the survey of 280 full-time employees and their partners uncovers a connection between abusive office behavior and increased tension at home. Co-author Merideth Ferguson explained in a statement, "It may be that as supervisor abuse heightens tension in the relationship, the employee is less motivated or able to engage in positive interactions with the partner and other family members."

The survey participants included individuals working in public, private, nonprofit and self-employed sectors. Of the employees, 57 percent were male who worked an average of five years at their job. The average age of the employee and partner was 36, and 75 percent had children living in their home.

Employees were asked if supervisors ever demonstrated certain behaviors such as "tells me my thoughts or feelings are stupid," and "puts me down in front of others." Partners were asked how often, during the last month, they felt "irritated or resentful about things your partner did or didn't do," and "tense from fighting, arguing or disagreeing with your partner."

The results showed that a poor employee/supervisor relationship caused tension within marital and family relationships. Alternately, those with longer partner relationships and more children at home showed less of a negative impact from a supervisor's tantrums, rudeness, public criticism or inconsiderate actions.

Study author Dawn Carlson, professor of management at the Hankamer School of Business at Baylor, said, "The evidence highlights the need for organizations to send an unequivocal message to those in supervisory positions that these hostile and harmful behaviors will not be tolerated."

The study authors urge that employers take steps to stop abuse and for employee victims to seek appropriate help inside the workplace or through alternate forms of counseling and stress management. In a release, Carlson said, "Employers must take steps to prevent or stop the abuse and also to provide opportunities for subordinates to effectively manage the fallout of abuse and keep it from affecting their families."

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