CAMDEN — Employees who would rather turn the other cheek than confront an abusive supervisor might be doing harm to their own work productivity, according to research by a Rutgers–Camden organizational behavior expert.
Oscar Holmes IV, an assistant professor of management at the Rutgers School of Business–Camden, says employees are probably better off airing their grievances than bottling them up.
“In workplaces in which employees perceive their bosses to be mean, hostile, or derogatory, they mostly tend to try and avoid the situation altogether,” Holmes says. “However, that coping mechanism makes people more emotionally exhausted and therefore unable to perform their work at their greatest potential.”
Holmes says it’s natural that many employees partake in feedback avoidance when their employers demonstrate hostile behaviors like public ridicule or explosive outbursts.
Because employees still rely on their supervisors for things like raises, promotions, and continued employment, they’re more likely to try and ignore the situation than confront it.
“We think avoidance is helpful, but in reality, it’s detrimental,” says Holmes, co-author of the article, “Abusive supervision and feedback avoidance: The mediating role of emotional exhaustion,” published in the Journal of Organizational Behavior in 2012. Holmes co-wrote the article with Jonathon Halbesleben, associate professor of management at The University of Alabama, and Marilyn Whitman, assistant professor of management at The University of Alabama.
“Trying to plan your day to avoid your boss requires cognitive resources that ultimately end up wasting time and energy that can be used doing work,” he says.
According to Holmes, research suggests that an employee should prepare for a face-to-face meeting to not criticize the supervisor, but to form a better working relationship with him or her.
“For example, if the supervisor is a micromanager, the employee can state, ‘I find that I work best if I’m given more autonomy over making decisions on which projects to work on,’” Holmes says. “It’s important that the employees fight the abusive tactics and not the abusive person. Likewise, the employee should focus on language that honors the supervisor and sometimes also accepts some responsibility.”
Holmes says employees should prepare for the meeting by first practicing the conversation with a friend. If the strategy doesn’t work, he suggests that employees maintain the necessary cordial contact with the supervisor and seek coworker support to buffer relationships while searching for employment elsewhere.
A Cherry Hill resident, Holmes’s research interests include human resource management and organizational behavior, and he studies how managers can maximize employee productivity by fostering inclusive work environments. His research has been published in the Journal of Management, Spirituality, and Religion and Equal Opportunities International.
Holmes earned his bachelor’s degree from Virginia Commonwealth University, master’s degrees from the University of Richmond and The University of Alabama, and his doctoral degree from The University of Alabama.