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Toxic Bosses: When Supervisors Inflict the 7 Deadly Sins of Business on Their Employees

| December 16, 2010

You wish.

In recent years, the American workplace has been infused with unprecedented levels of hostility — and that’s largely due to the deterioration of supervisor-subordinate trust, according to Florida State University researchers.

To better understand this deteriorating relationship, Wayne Hochwarter, the Jim Moran Professor of Business Administration in Florida State’s College of Business, and research associate Christian Ponder asked more than 750 mid-level employees to report how often they personally experienced their direct supervisor’s “Seven Deadly Sins” — wrath/anger, greed, laziness/sloth, pride, lust, envy and gluttony — at work.
The Seven Deadly Sins is a classification of objectionable behaviors that has been used since early Christian times to educate and instruct followers concerning humanity’s tendency to sin.

“We choose these particular behaviors because they have an established history, are familiar to people in both religious and secular settings, and are documented to strain interpersonal relationships at work,” Hochwarter said.

Results indicate malevolent supervisor behaviors in excess of what many might expect:

  • 26 percent of employees said their boss frequently has trouble managing his or her anger (wrath);
  • 27 percent of employees said their boss vigorously pursues undeserved rewards (greed);
  • 41 percent of employees said their boss habitually pushes work on to others rather than doing it himself or herself (laziness);
  • 31 percent of employees said their boss regularly seeks undeserved admiration from others at work (pride);
  • 33 percent of employees said their boss makes sure that others stroke his or her ego on a daily basis (lust);
  • 19 percent of employees said their boss can be counted on to act enviously toward others who experience good things (jealous); and
  • 23 percent of employees said that their boss purposefully hoards resources that could be useful to others at work (gluttony).

Without question, the most frequently reported leader behaviors across genders, industry sectors, and levels of responsibility were pride and laziness. Of little surprise: Results indicated a variety of negative employee outcomes associated with supervisors’ aberrant behavior, including impaired work productivity and poorer heath.

Christian Ponder, left, and Wayne Hochwarter

“Employees with leaders who committed these ‘sins’ contributed less effort (40 percent less), felt overloaded as a result of forced responsibility for their supervisor’s work (33 percent more), were less likely to make creative suggestions (66 percent less), and received fewer resources to effectively do their job (60 percent less) than those without this negative type of leadership,” Ponder said.

Also, victims of supervisors’ self-serving behavior spent considerably more time at work pursuing alternative job opportunities (75 percent more).

In terms of deteriorating health, victimized workers experienced more daily anxiety (50 percent more), less happiness in life (30 percent less), more physical and emotional exhaustion (45 percent more), and more gloominess while on the job (62 percent more).

According to the researchers, the good news is that there still are more considerate managers than selfish ones. However, it is evident that recession-based uncertainty has encouraged many business leaders to pursue self-serving behaviors at the expense of those that are considered mutually beneficial or supportive of organizational goals.

“It is always interesting to see how people react when they feel that their backs are against the wall,” Ponder said. “Some leaders try to rally the troops, while others decide to go it alone to safeguard what they feel they have.” Perhaps when the cloud of recession fully lifts and job environments become more stable, leaders will focus on employee development rather than self-preservation, he added.

However, since progress is viewed only in the distant horizon by many experts, employees at all supervisory levels must develop the skills to peacefully co-exist.

“The consequences of not doing so are increasingly fatal for organizations,” according to Hochwarter.

In the words of a 43-year-old accountant who participated in the study, “When it comes to my boss, what’s his is his, and what’s mine is his as well. Actually, what I really mean is that all that is good is his and all that is bad and stressful is mine; this drives me crazy to the point of giving up.”

Hochwarter and Ponder’s research is being prepared for journal publication.

Florida State’s News Service

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2 Responses for “Toxic Bosses: When Supervisors Inflict the 7 Deadly Sins of Business on Their Employees”

  1. lawabidingcitizen says:

    Gee, I wonder what the percentages are for competent, courteous, considerate workers.

  2. FloridaStateStudent says:

    This article contains a contradiction. It states that Laziness is reported 41% of the time, which is highest of all the deadly sins, yet it goes on to contradict this assertion by proclaiming “Without question, the most frequently reported leader behaviors across genders, industry sectors, and levels of responsibility were pride and laziness”. I notice this because my teacher is asking us to know this information for an exam and it is confusing to us as a class. Which information is true?

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