Study Examines Entitled Workers, 'Bully Bosses'

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Research from Indiana University Southeast could offer insight into why some employees behave badly. Associate Professor of Management Kenneth Harris says results suggest workers feelings of entitlement are strongly linked to a perception of an "abusive" boss. He believes such attitudes can affect the bottom line. September 17, 2013

News Release

NEW ALBANY, Ind. - A sense of entitlement at work could lead to more than just a bad attitude at the office.

Recent research from Indiana University Southeast indicates that entitlement leads to employees believing they have a bully boss which in turn results in some form of payback.

IU Southeast Associate Professor of Management Kenneth Harris discovered a strong correlation between employees who believe they are entitled and abusive supervision. The study, co-authored with business professor Paul Harvey of the University of New Hampshire, and two business professors from other universities, found that entitled employees are more likely to rank their supervisors as abusive, and are also more likely to respond in a retaliatory manner.

To put it simply, the more entitled an employee, the more likely he/she is to believe the boss is a bully and react with bad behavior.

Whether or not abusive supervision is actually occurring or is simply perceived, the sense of entitlement among employees is equally harmful. According to the study, psychological entitlement in the workplace can pose a threat to managerial and organizational performance.

Harris and Harvey completed two different studies to come to their conclusion. The first study surveyed 396 full-time employees in various career fields across the country. The second study surveyed 257 full-time employees and one co-worker for each employee.

The second study in particular addressed the perception of abusive supervision between multiple workers with the same boss.

"We found that entitled employees reported higher levels of abusive supervision than did their peers who shared the same supervisor," Harris said.

The research also shows that it's not only feelings of entitlement that crop up in the work place, but also retaliation.

"Entitled employees are more likely to react in undesirable ways in response to abusive supervision, and we found this in two different studies, and with retaliatory outcomes rated by either the entitled employees or their coworkers," Harris said.

The paper, "Abusive supervision and the entitled employee," was recently published in The Leadership Quarterly. Other co-authors are William E. Gillis and Mark J. Martinko.

About IU Southeast:

IU Southeast is one of eight campuses of Indiana University. Offering more than 50 degree programs and concentrations, the scenic 180-acre campus is located less than 15 minutes from downtown Louisville, Kentucky. It currently has an enrollment of more than 6,900 students and employs more than 400 faculty members. About 400 students now live on campus in five fully furnished, lodge-style residence halls. IU Southeast is the most affordable four-year university in the region and offers significant financial aid to a majority of students. For more information, visit www.ius.edu. IU Southeast is a tobacco-free campus.

Source: Indiana University Southeast