The Strange Upside of Having a Shitty Boss

Bad bosses are the mother of invention.

office space movie still

Having a shitty boss is the worst. But new research out of Norwich, England found that when people had less supportive supervisors at work, they were happier. That doesn’t mean their bosses deserve credit for this. Instead, the series of three experiments reveal that the lack of support pushed workers to build relationships, plan activities, and seek support from each other to cope with that d-bag. “Duh!” bartenders around the country yelled in unison.

But it’s still good to know. The study, published this week in the journal Work & Stress, is thought to be one of the first to explore how to reverse the negative relationship. Researchers looked at three cohorts of employees: 81 team leaders working under direct supervision based out of Portugal, 177 supervised full-time workers, and 242 employees working full-time and under direct supervision, both based out of the U.S. Participants completed a series of comparable questionnaires about their workplace culture, the level of emotional exhaustion they felt, and perceived supervisor support, or PSS.

emotional-exhaustion

Interaction of emotional exhaustion (EE) and perceived supervisor support, predicting planning. | Taylor & Francis Online

Across all three groups, researchers found that lower levels of PSS were expectedly linked to higher levels of emotional exhaustion. More surprising, low PSS enhanced the relationship between emotional exhaustion and social planning between coworkers. Unsupportive superiors also increased the need for workers to seek social support, which strengthened the association between planning and happiness. These results echo past research on ICU nurses, who were found to experience less burnout when they had stronger social relationships at work. However, it is seemingly the first to connect the necessity for these bonds to terrible management.

It’s important to note that people with good bosses weren’t unhappy. They just were not as emotionally exhausted and had little necessity to plan activities and seek social support from an office manager named Karen (probably). While these actions could be valid solutions, they could also be symptoms of a terrible work-life balance. Perhaps they can be both, but more research needs to be done to be sure. Until then, bad bosses are linked to happiness in a roundabout way, but good co-workers should get the praise for it. And with managers like that, they never will.

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