Is Your Company Creating Good Citizens?

When a boss with an authoritarian personality stifles an employee, you may think the only danger is the loss of an employee. But a recent study suggests that employees who feel oppressed in the workplace may be deterred from participating in their local civic life.

The paper—published in the journal, ILR Review, analyzed several measures of employee participation and the political behaviors of more than 14,000 workers across 27 countries in Europe from 2010-2011—was summarized by Phil Ciciora last week on the site,

The researchers found that autonomy and participation in decision-making in the workplace were linked to individual political behaviors in civil society. The results, which are consistent with the hypothesis of a “positive outward democratic spillover effect” from the workplace to the political arena, point to the workplace’s influence on individual behavior, Ciciora cites J. Ryan Lamare, a professor of labor and employment relations at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, as saying.

That makes sense to me, as I’ve experienced the workplace manager who relishes the act of management more than the act of accomplishment. The personality type of the boss who seeks to dominate more than reach goals and get work done is common. Now, it seems there’s evidence to suggest this toxic workplace personality not only harms the company the toxic employee works for, but harms the psyche, and even the community, of those that employee supervises.

The chance for employees to review their bosses, in addition to being reviewed themselves, is a huge deterrent to the authoritarian manager. That dictatorial personality may assume the employee will be too afraid to speak up, but if there is a boss above the manager—the boss of both the manager and the employee—who will be reading the review, rather than just the manager himself, the employee may feel free to be honest. It’s key that Human Resources provides oversight to ensure there is no retaliation for honesty about a manager in a review.

Over the last eight years, two times at least, I have written extensively, and honestly, about the shortcomings of a now-former manager, and was seemingly retaliated against. I was given additional process and busy work to do around my assignments. I interpreted it as my former manager’s way of winding red tape around my work, so I would be stymied and less able to succeed. He naturally would dispute that interpretation, but that’s how it came across to me. I’ll just say I’m glad he’s technically no longer my manager, though he still has involvement with my work.

What kind of empowerment do you provide employees to push back against a manager who is oppressive—one who likes to exert power more than focusing on getting work done? I’ve noticed that those personality types tend to be friends with people at the company who can protect them, so what is the solution?

Sometimes keeping the purse strings tight around payroll is a way, not only to help a company save money, but also to limit toxic, ineffectual managers. If you have a strictly limited amount of money to spend on employees, then it forces a company to be selective about who it chooses to keep on board. If a manager—or any employee—isn’t getting work done, or has an alarmingly low retention rate in his or her department, then that manager will be terminated, or helped into an early retirement. That’s my personal hope, anyway.

My company recently was acquired by a much larger, better-funded, and better-organized company. I’m hoping a closer look will be taken at what each employee does, and whether some would be better suited off the payroll, or used in a limited way on a contract basis. My former manager has talked about trying to retire for years. I’m hoping our new owners will give him special assistance in that regard.

How do you identify and reform or eliminate authoritarian managers from your company? What is the impact on employees’ psyches when they work under an oppressive manager?

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