In-depth

Amid sluggish U.S. economy, bully bosses rule the roost

English.news.cn   2012-04-07 09:12:18            

by Matthew Rusling

WASHINGTON, April 6 (Xinhua) -- Suzanne's boss really had it in for her. After failing to train her enough to work successfully, her manager at a major Washington, D.C.-based government contractor used every opportunity to chew her out in front of colleagues.

She felt the lack of training impacted her performance, but that didn't matter to her boss, who eventually fired her.

"I've been looking for a job for more than two years," said Suzanne, in her early 30s, who declined to give her last name. " And the only thing I've been able to get is temp work and working at a restaurant. It's really demoralizing because I'm well educated with a master's degree," she explained of the situation she said was created by "a bully boss."

Such cases are more common in times when the U.S. economy is still struggling, and are likely to continue, as Friday's jobs report showed the economy won't get better any time soon.

With managers under the gun to do more with fewer employees, they are more likely to crack the whip on subordinates, who have fewer opportunities to part ways from an abusive boss, researchers said.

"There's a definite link between bad economies and boss-to- subordinate bullying," said David Yamada, a law professor at Boston's Suffolk University Law School who specializes in workplace bullying.

A bully boss can take a number of forms, from a screaming, in- your-face supervisor to a highly critical micro-manager who eyes employees' every move. There are also cases of supervisors exhibiting textbook sociopathic behavior such as working behind the scenes to undermine an employee's career.

The number of targets may be surprising. A CareerBuilder study last year found that nearly a third of U.S. workers have felt bullied in the workplace and that the majority did not confront or report the bully.

Call it a sign of the times. With ongoing high unemployment and lack of job opportunities in the U.S., the quality of jobs has lessened across the board, from lower wages to hostile work environments, said Heidi Shierholz, an economist at the Economic Policy Institute.

That is because companies know full well that employees are stuck there, at least until the job market picks up, which gives managers less incentive to try to keep workers from leaving, Shierholz said.

Making the situation even worse is that it takes an increasing amount of education just to get by in today's workplace, which has saddled workers with heavy debt loads and forced some to stay in abusive jobs.

For Suzanne, getting by meant taking out more than 30,000 U.S. dollars in student loans, a heavy burden considering her salary was slashed by half after being fired from her former job.

She also now has a gaping, two-year hole in her resume, which can put her career behind in the long run, as labor statistics show that the long-term unemployed have the most trouble finding full-time work.

U.S. A TOUGH PLACE TO WORK

Some researchers believe that the problem is related to U.S. cultural norms that differ from those of many other developed countries.

"It's fair to say that the American workplace is more hierarchical, is more stratified than, say, the European workplace, " Yamada said.

The Command-and-control forms of management are commonplace here, making it harder to complain to someone who will listen, he said.

Bully bosses can also thrive on manipulation."Some of the worst workplace aggressors tend to be kick-down, kiss-up types," he said.

"They are very good at cultivating their supervisors and in fooling them into thinking they are really nice guys," which makes it more difficult for subordinates to go up the ladder to complain, Yamada said.

Yamada noted that many U.S. companies ignore the potential harm done by bully bosses -- targets may keep good ideas to themselves in a bid to avoid dealing with the boss more than they have to.

They may also spend their office down time perusing through online job sites and sending out resumes, instead of taking on extra projects that would benefit the company.

Moreover, many will jump at the first job offer they get, leaving their bully boss with the time-consuming task of training a successor.

Special Report: Global Financial Crisis

Editor: Chen Zhi
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