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The Healthiest Way to Deal with a Horrible Boss

Many of us have experienced a hostile work environment, with frustrating colleagues and crabby management. When a supervisor beats you down, do you normally just take it with a grain of salt and move on? For most people the answer is yes, as fear of retaliation for standing up against workplace aggression far outweighs the benefits of feeling satisfied by sticking it to the man. However new research finds that employees who stick up for themselves against their unfair treatment often experience higher job satisfaction than those who do not.

A recent study by researchers at The Ohio State University, looked at two sets of surveys conducted seven months apart. The first survey polled 169 participants, and asked them about workplace politics, how often bosses belittle them, and if they had any techniques to deal with the hostility. The second follow-up survey asked questions related to workplace satisfaction and other emotions related to work.

The surveys concluded that those who had techniques to rise against their bosses were more likely to have higher levels of job satisfaction and dedication to their employer. It is important to note that the “techniques” mostly consisted of non-confrontation approaches, like ignoring the boss or playing dumb. With these results in mind, the researchers wanted to know if active and confrontational approaches were just as successful.

In the second study, different participants were asked the same questions as the first group. However, there was an additional question about whether they thought their reactions to management put them at risk for negative outcomes, such as salary reductions or disciplinary action. The result: participants who engaged in hostile reactions to their boss felt the same job satisfaction as the participants in the first study and also did not fear any retaliation from their bosses.

Lead author of the study Bennett Tepper, said that these results could help understand the idea of “victim identity” and how it affects worker productivity. “Our work suggests that employees have a personally effective method of avoiding a victim identity — performing acts of upward hostility."

Tepper continued by saying that these studies are not intended to encourage bad behavior or increased hostility by workers, but to instead help employees understand their emotional reactions to common office occurrences. It is not clear yet if “upward hostility” is the best way to deal with a bad boss; other options like accepting the behavior or seeking a colleague’s advice were not studied. So while this study may leave you wanting to scream into your boss’s face the next time they criticize that TPS report, you may want to hold off.

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