Research led by a University of Wyoming business management expert shows that abusive bosses may retain their positions by taking steps to repair their social images without acting meaningfully to change their behavior.

Shawn McClean, an assistant professor in UW’s College of Business, joined colleagues from the University of Iowa, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and Texas A&M University in conducting the research, which appears in the journal Personnel Psychology. Their study also was featured in Harvard Business Review, a preeminent business magazine.

The researchers surveyed 79 bosses who volunteered to participate in the study from fields including education, health care, retail, and consulting. The researchers gathered information about how the bosses acted following incidents in which they told their subordinates they were incompetent, invaded their privacy, or made negative comments about them to others.

Through the study, they found that many of the bosses were more concerned about repairing their social images, doing small favors for employees with the express purpose of getting employees to view them more favorably.

The researchers suggest that breaking the cycle of self-centered, manipulative, and uncivil behavior by bosses requires organizational leaders to implement zero-tolerance policies for toxic supervisory behavior.

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