One of the most terrible forms of the abusive boss blows up at you one day and acts like a dream the next. As an employee and a person, you're left doubting your experience and your reaction to it. It keeps you feeling uncertain and anxious, but for your boss, it's a pretty good deal.
There's plenty of research out there showing how bad work environments can literally be hazardous to your health. Fair treatment decreases your sick days and increases your overall mental health. But if your boss is a bully, you're often left between a rock and a hard place. A new study from Michigan State University illustrates why your boss might behave in such extreme ways. In short — it makes them feel better about themselves.
Researcher Russ Johnson suspects that managers, like other people, keep a "moral ledger" of their own behavior. "In addition to feeling guilty after engaging in their own abusive behavior, the supervisors felt as though they lost 'moral credit,'" he said in a press release. "To build that credit back up, they showed types of sympathetic, supportive, and reparative behaviors toward their employees."
Johnson has published other research on abusive bosses, including one study showing that yelling at a direct report can alleviate mental fatigue for a stressed-out manager. That said, there's no excuse for that kind of management style, especially when it's been shown that compassion creates the best work environments. If this study describes your boss, look into ways to keep your work life separate from the rest — and opportunities to find a better job.