This Is Why Your Jerk Boss Is a Jerk

If you're the bad boss, you probably know it, not least because taking out your temper on your direct reports feels like a release. But new research shows just how much of a time limit there is on any benefits you get from venting — and how quickly you'll be paying for it.


A business scholar at Michigan State University examined what benefits abusive managers get from berating their employees. He reasoned that no one would behave in such a way, with such obvious consequences, if they didn't get something out of it. It turns out nasty outbursts are a semi-conscious way of conserving energy. An abusive boss uses up mental energy by suppressing that behavior, which creates mental fatigue. Your jerk boss feels rejuvenated and able to focus after ripping into you.

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None of that excuses that behavior, of course, and that supervisor doesn't benefit indefinitely. Data showed that after about a week, often less, the mistrust and resentment from abused employees outweighs any relief the boss experiences. Long-term, of course, this creates a toxic environment, in which employees shut down, sabotage their work, and often simply quit.


As with most office problems, clear and honest communication can short-circuit the impulses that damage work relationships the most. Frequent, scheduled breaks can also help supervisors take stock of their emotional state. The Institute for Scientific Information on Coffee (yes, it's real) just announced findings that nearly one-third of office workers don't take coffee breaks because they're too busy, and 11 percent said they don't take breaks during the day at all.

Finally, if you're feeling overwhelmed by your duties, reach out to your colleagues, especially on the managerial level. Getting support from people who know where you're coming from can not only help you safely release your frustrations, but also build relational energy to help you get through your day.