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It´s the stress, stupid!

Why employees react counterproductively in case of leader´s mistreatment




Employees react promptly when they feel mistreated by their superiors. Regularly they behave unconstructively – from being passive and not forthcoming to aggressive or even business impeding.

They do so in order to handle the stress which has popped up in this negative atmosphere. Hence it is not revenge, or a question of morals or sort of reflex – if you are not good to me I am not good to you – which leads to CWB, counterproductive work behavior. These were the results – more unequivocal than expected – a recent Canadian meta analysis which has worked thoroughly through the myriads of hypothesis and theories that tried to explain this phenomenon.

According to the researchers these findings have a couple of practical implications: Employees should not be put down when they feel legitimately disappointed or embarrassed about their boss ´ deficits, but be motivated to react constructively.

Laing/Nishioka/Evans/Brown/Shen/Lian, „Unbalanced, unfair, unhappy, or unable? Theoretical Integration of Multiple Processes Underlying the Leader Mistreatment-Employee CWB Relationshop with Meta-Analytic Method“, in: Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies“, 2022, Vol. 29 (1), 33 – 72.



From the practice:

You can work with stress or stress relief as a motive for counterproductive behavior in case of leadership failures. Employees can be trained and inspired 1. To address the respective superior directly, 2. To go as a group for a workshop where they can reflect and interact or 3. To approach the next higher level – the bosses of the boss, the HR department or even the works council. For the leaders themselves I do recommend: When you realize your mistreatment, please apologize asap and avoid on the other hand any justifications or tirades of excuses, when you are addressed by your team. And based on this meta analysis let me add from today on: please keep in mind that in these specific situations employees are not angels of revenge, do not feel superior morally and do not behave irrationally at all. It´s the stress – stupid.

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