Belligerent Bosses: National Study finds Employee Trust Sacrificed in the Financial Crisis

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A national study finds bosses use threats and intimidation during the financial crisis. Employees complain of a "culture of fear" and eroding trust.

Several people believe employers are using the crisis as an excuse to 'throw people under the bus,'

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.

Increased belligerent behavior and eroding employee trust are disturbing leadership trends in the financial crisis, according to the study's researchers, 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 purposefully foster a "culture of fear" to maintain control during the financial crisis. "Several people believe employers are using the crisis as an excuse to 'throw people under the bus,'" she said.

Despite significant economic changes, leaders reportedly have not changed the way they communicate with employees. Approximately 64% of working adults in the study reported supervisors use a 'business as usual' mentality during the crisis; 82% of working adults expressed frustration with supervisors' lack of adaptation during the crisis. Senior leaders expressed significantly less concern about employee issues, such as layoffs and downsizing, than front line workers. Instead, senior management focused on market-related issues, such as declining sales.

"But it's not all doom and gloom," Schuttler said, 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.

The study, which analyzed the perceptions of 1,150 working adults in the United States, compared the leadership and communication skills of supervisors in various industries. Rouse is an internationally published author whose research focuses on leadership, communication, marketing, and healthcare. Schuttler, owner of Organizational Troubleshooter, LLC, is an international public speaker, consultant, educator, and author with 20 years of management/leadership improvement expertise. Both researchers are faculty members at the University of Phoenix's School of Advanced Studies. The study was funded by a research grant from the University of Phoenix.

The full report of the study's findings can be downloaded at Leadership during the Financial Crisis Results

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Dr. Ruby A. Rouse

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Dr. Richard S. Schuttler
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