Fight back! Study finds career prospects not affected by standing up to bully bosses

The study found that long-term career prospects were unaffected by a show of defiance

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The Independent Online

Long-suffering employees of aggressive bosses shouldn’t feel they have to put up with bullying, according to research which recommends they should fight back instead.

A study into office psychology has advised workers facing an unfriendly manager to ignore their boss, act like they don’t understand what their manager is talking about, or just give a half-hearted response. But crucially, the report also found that returning hostility didn’t harm their career.

The study, published in the online journal Personnel Psychology, took evidence from two separate studies.

In the first survey, researchers asked participants to rate how often their supervisors ridiculed or embarrassed them. The group completed the same questionnaire seven months later, rating their job satisfaction, commitment to their employer, psychological distress and negative feelings.

Results showed that when bosses were hostile but employees didn’t retaliate, the workers had higher levels of psychological distress, less satisfaction with their jobs and less commitment to their employer.

The report’s author, Professor Bennett Tepper of Ohio State University, then sought to determine whether a feisty response to an aggressive manager went on to harm the career prospects of those in the study. A second study, with questions, revealed that employees who turned the hostility back on their bosses were less likely to report psychological distress.

It also found that long-term career prospects were unaffected by a show of defiance.

“Employees didn’t believe their actions hurt their career,” said Professor Tepper. “There is a norm of reciprocity in our society. We have respect for someone who fights back, who doesn’t just sit back and take abuse. Having the respect of co-workers may help employees feel more committed to their organisation and happy about their job.”

“Employees felt better about themselves because they didn’t just sit back and take the abuse,” said. “The best situation is certainly when there is no hostility. But if your boss is hostile, there appears to be benefits to reciprocating.”