Office gossip, withholding information, and intentionally missing deadlines are among tactics used to bully one in four Australian bosses, according to a new study.
The study into staff who target and harass their managers - a behaviour coined 'upwards bullying' - found other common bullying tactics included spreading workplace rumours, skipping meetings, and ignoring the views and opinions of managers.
The study involved 162 (105 male, 57 female) participants from both public and private organisations across a range of industries across Australia. Participants came from a range of managerial levels including senior, middle and supervisory positions.
"Upwards bullying, like other forms of workplace bullying, is often more subtle and less obvious to other staff," said Dr Sara Branch, psychologist and study author from Griffith University. "However, it can also include more aggressive behaviours such as yelling, verbal threats, and confrontational phone conversations."
Dr Branch found that many managers felt uncomfortable about reporting the bullying for fear of not being taken seriously or being expected to deal with the situation on their own.
"Workplaces need to understand that bullying can occur at any level in an organisation. Although managers clearly have formal authority, they can also be victims of bullying and need just as much support as other staff," she said.
Dr Branch, who presented her findings at the Australian Psychological Society's (APS) 8th Industrial & Organisational Psychology (IOP) Conference in June, noted that one of the main triggers for upwards bullying is organisational change.
"If an employee is disgruntled by change, such as new working conditions, management, or processes, they may blame their manager and respond by bullying them," she said.
Dr Branch said upwards bullying has the potential to damage a manager's mental health and wellbeing.
"We know that bullying can cause psychological stress, anxiety, and in some extreme cases, even depression. Managers may also lose confidence in their abilities and feel less satisfied in their jobs.
"Upwards bullying has the potential to impact the bottom line, with loss in productivity, increased absenteeism and higher staff turnover, as well as the cost of intervention programs. Organisations must take all forms of bullying seriously, as it is destructive and can have devastating affects on people's careers."
Dr Branch recommended that workplaces should adopt grievance management processes that employees can trust and to encourage managers to report the bullying and bring employees together to discussing the issues openly.