Having a horrible boss may actually mold you into a great one, study finds

ORLANDO, Fla. — Having an abusive, insulting, and downright horrible boss can make it hard to feel good about heading into work every day. But new research shows there may be a positive takeaway for those who have long dealt with atrocious authority figures.

A study by researchers at the University of Central Florida found that abuse and bad behavior by those in management positions don’t always lead to the same behavior in lower-level employees. In fact, when offered positions of leadership, the victims of abuse are often more likely to treat their own subordinates better.

“Some employees who are abused by their bosses resolve not to repeat that pattern with their own subordinates and become exceptional leaders of their teams,” notes study author Shannon Taylor, UCF College of Business professor, in a media release. “Our study sheds light on a silver lining of sorts for people who are subjected to abuse at work. Some managers who experience this abuse can reframe their experience so it doesn’t reflect their behavior and actually makes them better leaders.”

The study showed that those who relied on their integrity and morals to fight their manager’s abusive approach felt encouraged to prevent it from carrying on beyond their bosses.

Researchers recruited 750 people to take part in one of two experiments, along with 500 employees and their supervisors in a field study over multiple years. The researchers examined the differences in attitude and behavior of superiors who had been abused by their bosses and those who had not in their treatment of their subordinates. The abused supervisors who had to distance themselves from their managers showed respect and kindness toward their employees, even though they themselves had been treated poorly under their old bosses.

“The lesson here isn’t to hire more abusive managers, of course, but to try to encourage people who have been abused, among other things, to say, ‘Look, I’m not like my boss,'” Taylor says. “You can take a stand–not just by reporting the bad behavior, but by actively rejecting this abusive leadership style.”

The study is published in the Journal of Applied Psychology.

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Ben Renner

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