Study finds that bosses use threats and intimidation on employees during financial crisis

Employees report their bosses use threats and intimidation during the financial crisis, according to a national study of leadership funded by the University of Phoenix. “Questions get you written up and/or fired,” one worker said. The study’s results also showed employees increasing distrust what their bosses say.

Belligerent behavior and eroding employee trust are disturbing leadership trends in the financial crisis, according to Dr. Ruby Rouse and Dr. Richard Schuttler. Employees repeatedly described threatening communication:

  • “Be thankful you have a job.”
  • “You can be replaced.”
  • “There are lots of qualified people on the street who would love your job.”

Such statements remind workers their jobs are on the “chopping block.” According to Rouse, some supervisors seem to foster a “culture of fear” to maintain control during the financial crisis.

Despite significant economic changes, leaders reportedly have not changed the way they communicate with employees.

  • 64% of supervisors use a “business as usual” mentality
  • 82% of employees expressed frustration with supervisors’ lack of adaptation
  • Senior leaders were significantly less concerned about employee issues, such as layoffs and downsizing, than front line workers.

Non-profit and governmental leaders were among the worst communicators. They received significantly lower rankings than their counterparts in business, healthcare, education, and manufacturing. Workers at non-profit organizations were particularly dissatisfied. Over half the non-profit employees in the sample (51%) characterized their supervisors’ communication as “poor.”

In contrast, 41% of participants described their leaders as effective. Working adults expressed a strong preference for leaders who are transparent, honest, and visible. The majority (55%) of participants who shared open-ended comments recommended increased supervisor openness; 33% wanted more honesty.


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