Bad Bosses Can Spark Passive Aggressive Worker Retaliation

October 9, 2007 ( - A Florida State University (FSU) survey found that workers chafing under the reign of an abusive boss often find indirect ways to fight back, including slacking off and doing deliberately sloppy work.

According to an FSU news release , the study found:

  • 30% of those who reported abuse slowed down or purposely made errors, compared with 6% not reporting abuse.
  • 27% of those reporting abuse purposely hid from the boss, compared to 4% of those not reporting abuse.
  • 33% of those who reported abuse confessed to not putting in a maximum effort, compared to 9% not reporting abuse.
  • 29% of those who reported abuse took sick time off even when not ill, compared to 5% not reporting abuse.
  • 25% of those who reported abuse took more or longer breaks, compared with 7% of those not reporting abuse.

FSU Management Professor Wayne Hochwarter and research associate Samantha Engelhardt collected information from more than 180 employees who reported supervisor abuse. On the other side of the coin, Hochwarter and Engelhardt found that those not reporting abuse were three times more likely to proactively fix problems, including perceived abuse, than those who reported mistreatment.

“The data do not allow us to definitively state if abuse leads to these reactions, or if managers are just responding to their subordinates’ less-than-stellar behavior,” Hochwarter said in the news release. “However, it is clear that employee-employer relations are at one of the lowest points in history.”

Hochwarter and Engelhardt’s latest research follows a 2006 study in which the researchers examined the problem of abusive bosses and documented their effects on employee health and job performance. More information about the earlier study is at .