SOURCE: Ohio State University, news release, Jan. 20, 2015
WEDNESDAY, Jan. 21, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- One way of dealing with nasty bosses may be to turn their hostility back on them, a new study suggests.
Hundreds of U.S. workers were asked if their supervisors were hostile -- doing things such as yelling, ridiculing and intimidating staff -- and how the employees responded to such treatment.
Workers who had hostile bosses but didn't retaliate had higher levels of mental stress, were less satisfied with their jobs, and less committed to their employer than those who returned their supervisor's hostility, the study found.
But the researchers also found that workers who turned the hostility back on their bosses were less likely to consider themselves victims.
The workers in the study returned hostility by ignoring the boss, acting like they didn't know what the boss was talking about, or by doing a half-hearted job, according to the study that was published online recently in the journal Personnel Psychology.
"Before we did this study, I thought there would be no upside to employees who retaliated against their bosses, but that's not what we found," lead author Bennett Tepper, a professor of management and human resources at Ohio State University, said in a university news release.
"The best situation is certainly when there is no hostility. But if your boss is hostile, there appears to be benefits to reciprocating. Employees felt better about themselves because they didn't just sit back and take the abuse," he added.
One reason that employees who fight back against a hostile boss are better off may be because they earn the admiration and respect of co-workers, Tepper suggested.
"There is a norm of reciprocity in our society. We have respect for someone who fights back, who doesn't just sit back and take abuse. Having the respect of co-workers may help employees feel more committed to their organization and happy about their job," he explained.
However, the study findings don't mean that workers should always retaliate against a bad boss.
"The real answer is to get rid of hostile bosses," Tepper said. "And there may be other responses to hostile bosses that may be more beneficial. We need to test other coping strategies."
The American Psychological Association offers advice about how to manage your boss.