Bosses Who Pick on One Employee Ruin Everyone's Productivity, Study Shows

Here's yet another reason to ban workplace bullying.

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By Laura Entis

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

You shouldn't call people names. You shouldn't yell, or belittle others. These are lessons we're supposed to learn as children, but unfortunately, such behaviors persist long after we've left the playground: Workplace bullying is sadly commonplace.

It doesn't just take place among coworkers. A common tick of the Bad Boss is to select an office scapegoat on whom he or she can dump any built up frustration/anger/aggression at whim.

It makes sense that direct targets of their bosses' abuse would experience a decrease in productivity; if your boss is frequently yelling at you, your work will likely suffer.

Related: Rampant Bullying Found Across Workplaces

But a new study from a team of researchers at Michigan State University found that when a boss frequently bullies one employee, the entire team's productivity decreases. The study involved looking at verbal abuse and demeaning emails in a controlled lab setting.

"That's the most disturbing finding," lead investigator Crystal Farh said in a press release, "because it's not just about individual victims now, it's about creating a context where everybody suffers, regardless of whether you were individually abused or not."

According to her research, while targeted individuals contributed less (as one would expect), their team members "descended into conflicts" and also, on average, were less productive.

Farh's main takeaway? In the wake of any situation where a boss is bullying an underling, everyone on the team – not just that employee – will need help repairing interpersonal relationships and rebuilding trust. In other words, bullying bosses are truly toxic because their bad behavior spreads, infecting the entire office.

Related: Study: Office Plants Can Boost Productivity and Morale

Laura Entis
Laura Entis is a reporter for Fortune.com's Venture section.

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