Subscribe to Entrepreneur for $5

Is Your Boss a Bully? New Research Says There's a Surprising Reason Why.

There's a reason why some bosses are abusive.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Need a quick mental boost? Be a jerk. At least, that's what one group of researchers has discovered.


According to a recent study published in the Academy of Management Journal, when bosses bully or belittle their employees, they experience short-lived benefits such as improved well-being and replenished energy.

Related: The 6 Most Familiar 'Bad Boss' Types and What to Do About Them

While research has repeatedly revealed the repercussions of abusive supervision, some bosses continue to act like jerks. So, there must be some benefits from abusive actions. To understand what these benefits are, researchers studied and collected data from employees and managers in a variety of industries, including manufacturing, education and service, in both China and the U.S.

Turns out, managers who bullied and took out their frustrations on workers experienced a "sense of recovery" because their abusive actions replenished their mental energy and resources. When managers -- or people, in general -- hold in their feelings and suppress certain behaviors, it takes a lot of mental energy, which leads to "mental fatigue," says Russell Johnson, an associate professor at Michigan State University who co-authored the study, in a summary of the findings.

Related: Do You Have a Bad Boss? Here's What to Look For. (Infographic)

To the contrary, when bosses act on impulse, bullying and belittling employees, they save the mental energy they would have otherwise used to suppress their aggravation. However, don't let this fool you: This mental recovery period won't last long. According to the study, the benefits last for a week -- or less -- and that kind of behavior can have some serious side effects in the long-run.

"Although abuse may be helpful and even mentally restorative for supervisors in the short-term, over the long haul it will come back to haunt them," Johnson says. Abusive behavior can put a company and its culture at risk, potentially resulting in decreased trust, support and productivity from employees. It may even lead employees to quit.

Related: How Successful People Overcome Toxic Bosses

Rather than taking your frustrations out on your employees, the researchers suggest that supervisors minimize their workloads and take breaks regularly to cool down. They also advise communicating more with employees as a healthy, social outlet for negative emotions.

Entrepreneur Editors' Picks