Safety and OSHA News

Study: Workplace bullying hurts occupational safety and health

We all know bullying supervisors negatively affect morale. Now, a new study also shows they also impact workplace safety. 

Employees’ safety behavior can become worse when they’re treated in ways that detract from their bonds to a work group, according to Liu-Qin Yang, associate professor of industrial-organizational psychology at Portland State University.

Here’s how that happens, step-by-step:

  • Bosses’ behaviors can strengthen or weaken employees’ sense of belonging to the work group by supporting or undermining workers’ perceived status within the group
  • Poor treatment from a boss can make employees feel they’re not valued by the group
  • As a result, employees can become more self-centered
  • That leads them to respond negatively to their boss’ bullying behaviors
  • Part of the negative response is to not follow rules – such as safety rules.

The more uncertain an employee is about their social standing within a group, the more likely they are to respond negatively and “forget” safety.

And of course we know all it takes is one safety mistake by one employee to create a catastrophe.

“When people are less sure about their strengths and weaknesses and their status within a group, they become more sensitive,” Yang said.

“Organizations need to understand how important it is to curb leaders’ bad behavior and to create positive team dynamics, so that there will be fewer negative safety consequences for employees or customers,” she said.

What should employers do?

  • Implement training programs to improve leaders’ skills interacting with their employees, particularly when providing feedback and discipline
  • Promote a work environment that strengthens social bonds between employees, and
  • Make performance reviews more transparent so employees have less uncertainty about their social status in the workplace.

The study, Abusive supervision, thwarted belongingness, and workplace safety: A group engagement perspective, was published in the Journal of Applied Psychology.

Yang and her co-authors surveyed airline pilots and manufacturing technicians to arrive at their findings.

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  1. I found that to be just the opposite. I was in the northeast twice once in textiles and once in Meat. In both cases the Production Mgr was a yelling screaming blaming punishing bully. People were afraid to cross him. It made my job harder to do because we locked horns but once safety procedures were in place people followed them. Failure resulted in swift mean punishment for any thing that made the Production Mgr unhappy.

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