By ALEXANDRA RICHTER
Published November 20, 2023
In an ideal workplace, organizations should strive to protect employees from abusive supervisors, but for employees who experience this type of intense workplace stress, new research from the School of Management offers insight and coping strategies.
Available online ahead of publication in the Journal of Organizational Behavior, the study examines whether employees can recover from supervisory abuse during leisure time, and if individual personality traits impact the restoration process.
“Abusive supervision is detrimental to employees’ well-being. Victims experience increased emotional exhaustion, job stress, negative emotions and physical symptoms like pain, weakness, fatigue and shortness of breath,” says study co-author Min-Hsuan Tu, assistant professor of organization and human resources. “Our study clarifies why and under what conditions abused employees engage in certain activities to recover after work.”
Gathering data from 203 full-time employees in Taiwan, the researchers analyzed more than 1,500 daily responses over 10 consecutive working days to measure employee perception of nonphysical aggression from a boss or manager, such as humiliating or threatening subordinates or taking credit for their work.
Researchers also measured whether employees felt an urgent need to take a break from job demands; which of their leisure activities increased happiness; levels of enthusiasm and optimism the following day; and whether extroverted personality traits affected this process.
The data supports the recovery paradox phenomenon — when employees need to recover from abuse, they are too exhausted or depleted to proactively engage in beneficial recovery activities, such as social or physical activity.
“Our findings indicate that introverts, in particular, are able to recover effectively by participating in leisure activities that demand minimal energy, such as reading a book, watching television or relaxing on the couch,” says Tu.
To ensure employee well-being and prevent long-term consequences, the study confirms it is critical for organizations to inhibit and remove abusive supervision — and to support victims’ recovery processes. Tu says organizations should offer more training on leadership competence and emotional engagement. They also should support leisure time and work-life balance by discouraging work-related communications during nonwork time.
Tu collaborated on the study with Nai-Wen Chi, distinguished professor and director of the Graduate Institute of Human Resource Management at National Sun Yat-sen University.