“The Destructive Nature of Power without Status” details how those with some authority but without status (think clerks, prison guards etc) can become abusive, forcing those within their power to engage in demeaning behaviour.
The authors, from business schools at Northwestern University, University of Southern California, and Stanford University, use the example of the soldiers at Abu Ghraib, who abused and demeaned their prisoners.
The authors also note however that not everyone in these situations behaves badly – and that is a function of personality and culture.
This study links in with previous studies such as the now infamous “prisoner” study, where college students were assigned prison guard or prisoner roles. The behaviour of the guards was so abusive that the study was stopped halfway through. (for more information, see “Where are they Now“
Authors of the new study note that the abusive and belittling behaviours demonstrated by the study participants damaged goodwill and destroyed relationships – essentially meaning that the team was less productive as a result.
Another interesting link to this is the recent study about the effect of rudeness in the workplace on not only the recipients of the rudeness, but even on those who only witness the rudeness. This study demonstrated that those who witnessed (or experienced) rudeness in the workplace had lowered psychological and intellectual abilities to perform complex and demanding tasks. Add to this the study that says workplace incivility is on the rise….
So in summary – poor workplace behaviour has been demonstrated to impede effective and productive work practices through poor work relationships, loss of goodwill, and impaired psychological and intellectual capabilities. Conversely, is it logical to assume that respectful behaviours across the hierarchy promote positive work enviroments and cooperative, productive behaviours? Or if not positive productivity, at least a lack of negative influences on productivity (to use the double negative)!
If this post interested you, you might also like Life and Death in the Office.