Why bullies succeed on the job

U. BUFFALO (US) — Social skills may explain why bullies often achieve high levels of career success.

They use those skills to strategically abuse their coworkers, yet still receive positive evaluations from their supervisors, according to a recent study that is one of the first attempts to measure the relationship between being a bully and job performance.

It offers an initial explanation of why bullies thrive in the workplace despite organizational attempts to sanction bullying behaviors.


“Many bullies can be seen as charming and friendly, but they are highly destructive and can manipulate others into providing them with the resources they need to get ahead,” says the study’s co-author, Darren Treadway, associate professor of organization and human resources at the University at Buffalo School of Management.

Workplace bullying is pervasive. The study, published in the Journal of Managerial Psychology, indicates that as many as half of all employees in the US have witnessed bullying at work, and 35 percent have been the target of bullying.

The researchers collected behavioral and job performance data over two time periods from 54 employees at a mental health organization in the northwest US to capture the individual differences and social perception of bullies in the workplace. Regression analyses were conducted on this sample size, consistent with previous studies.

The results showed a strong correlation between bullying, social competence, and positive job evaluations.

Treadway says the findings are relevant beyond the health services industry and that companies should limit bullying behavior while rewarding high-performing employees.

“Employers can work to reduce the prevalence by finding organizationally appropriate ways for employees to achieve their goals, by incorporating measures of civility and camaraderie into performance evaluations, and by helping staff to develop the skills needed to manage bullies,” says Treadway.

Future research, he says, should focus on how bullies select their victims.

Collaborators include researchers from the Technical University of Munich School of Management, Germany; Youngstown State University; and Renmin University of China.

Source: University at Buffalo