- Employees with strong morals and integrity are less likely to adopt a bad boss' toxic behaviors, according to a series of studies conducted by a group of international researchers. Writing in Harvard Business Review (HBR), the researchers concluded that the presence of abusive supervisor behavior doesn't necessarily mean a cycle of abuse in the workplace is inevitable.
- In one survey of 500 Indian supervisory employees and their leaders, researchers found that abusive bosses' behavior generated a 12% increase in supervisory employees' disidentification with a toxic boss. But among those supervisors who "relied on their morals and integrity," which the researchers called having a "strong moral identity," the share of disidentification increased to 14%. This "psychological distancing" resulted in an 8% increase in ethical behaviors and a 6% drop in abuse toward supervisors' subordinates.
- According to the researchers, a boss' abusive behavior is estimated to cost organizations millions in productivity, turnover and legal fees annually. The group suggested that organizations select supervisors with strong morals, improve leadership development programs and remind all staff of organizational codes of conduct and/or ethics.
Given the damage a toxic boss can inflict on subordinates — low morale, stress, humiliation, conflict, turnover and more — HR professionals may need to step in to correct and prevent abusive behavior. Unfortunately, toxic bosses aren't uncommon; the results of a 2018 Monster survey showed that 3 in 4 workers have had a toxic boss. The traits of a bad boss that employees find the most distressing are disrespect, micromanaging, breaking promises, over-working subordinates and having unrealistic expectations of them, being overly critical, and taking credit for others' ideas. Toxic bosses often force valued employees to quit, a problem organizations need to avoid in a tight labor market plagued by an acute skills shortage.
Correcting all bad behaviors is impossible, but training can help managers avoid making some of the mistakes attributed to toxic bosses. Even managers admit they need training for their leadership roles. In a 2018 study by West Monroe Partners, 44% of managers admit being overwhelmed and feeling they need training. The process of becoming a manager presents its own challenges, Tim Hird, executive director of Robert Half Management Resources, previously told HR Dive. But new managers and their bosses can work together to ease the pressures of the transition and balance individual and team needs, he said.
Training might not be enough to correct an abusive boss's actions, including favoritism. HR leaders are tasked with enforcing their organization's zero-tolerance policies on bullying, sexual harassment, intimidation and other aggressive behaviors, all of which can be spelled out in a code of conduct that specifies the integrity and behavior expected of all employees.