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Mean Bosses Kill Team Cooperation

Update Date: Aug 20, 2014 06:43 PM EDT

Mean bosses are bad for team cooperation, according to a new study. Researchers from Michigan State University revealed that managers who are abusive to individual employees could actually trigger team conflicts.

Researchers said the latest study suggests that abusive behavior from leaders can infect entire teams and that nonphysical abuse by a supervisor consists of a lot more things than previously believed.

 The latest study revealed that supervisors who talk down and ridicule their workers negatively influence their workers' attitudes and behaviors. What's more abusive leadership also causes team members to act in similarly hostile behaviors toward one another.

"That's the most disturbing finding because it's not just about individual victims now, it's about creating a context where everybody suffers, regardless of whether you were individually abused or not," lead investigator Crystal Farh said in a news release.

The study involved 51 teams of employees from 10 firms in China. Researchers noted that the average team consisted of about six workers, and the teams carried out a variety of functions like customer service, technical support and research and development.

Nonphysical abuse like verbal mistreatment and demeaning emails from supervisors seemed to make employees feel devalued and less willing to contribute to the team. Furthermore, abusive behaviors from leadership also increased the risk of the entire team descending into conflicts and lower aggregate work productivity.

"Teams characterized by relationship conflict are hostile toward other members, mistreat them, speak to them rudely and experience negative emotions toward them," Farh said.

The findings were published online in the Journal of Applied Psychology.

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