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Entitled workers more likely to abuse co-workers: study

Workers who feel a sense of entitlement are more likely to experience frustration and abuse co-workers, according to new research from the University of New Hampshire in Durham.

Conducted by Paul Harvey, assistant professor of management at UNH, the research is presented in the June issue of Human Relations in the article "Frustration-based outcomes of entitlement and the influence of supervisor communication."

Researchers surveyed 223 full-time employees and found workers who had a strong sense of entitlement, including inflated self-perceptions and unrealistic expectations about promotions, were more likely to be dissatisfied with their work life, compared with workers who had a more realistic perception of their contributions.

The entitled employees studied also engaged in abusive workplace behaviors such as insulting, breaking promises and spreading rumors about co-workers in response to job-related frustration. The authors concluded entitled workers were likely to experience an increase in job frustration when supervisors increased communication with them. Increased supervisor communication had the opposite effect on workers with a low sense of entitlement.

Bullying in the Workplace

While the term "bullying" is receiving widespread attention, it is most commonly associated with schools and students. The suicide this summer of the Managing Editor of the award-winning Virginia Quarterly Review and the allegations of a bullying boss is a painful reminder that bullying is also a very real threat in the workplace. A 2007 study by Zogby International, commissioned by the Workplace Bullying Institute, found that 37% of workers had been bullied at one time or another. A recent University of Phoenix study claims that the recession has given "serial bullies" an excuse to mistreat employees, while more managers feel that "bearing down on people" is the best way to do more with less.

While economic conditions demand tighter reins, bullying crosses the line with outright aggressive behavior or a subtle psychological torture that makes the workplace intolerable. Workplace bullying tactics include threats to an individual's work status; personal attacks such as name-calling, belittlement; isolation or silent treatments; sabotage of work; work-related harassment such as unrealistic deadlines and rumor spreading.

In the book, Stop Bullying at Work: Strategies and Tools for HR & Legal Professionals, Teresa Daniel offers advice on distinguishing between a tough boss and a workplace bully:

Actions of a workplace bully

Actions of a tough boss

While conflict can occur when there is a tough boss, it differs from bullying because there is no malice, according to Ms. Daniel's research. If it appears from the facts that malice might be present, this should serve as a signal that a thorough investigation is required. It's a difficult issue and many companies don't know what to do; by default they do nothing. In fact, most employees (79%) either were not sure or were certain employers do little to nothing to address workplace bullying.