'Horrible Bosses' Movie Has a Ring of Reality, Professor Says

"Horrible Bosses," the black comedy film starring Jennifer Aniston, Jason Bateman and Kevin Spacey that opens this weekend, is about workers bent on murdering their bosses. It may be Hollywood fiction, but its portrait of volatile boss-employee relationships sending people over the edge is the daily reality for many workers, a new study shows.

Wayne Hochwarter, a professor at the Florida State University College of Business, has been studying boss-employee relationships for the past several years. His focus has been on the factors causing hostility, stress and declining performance.

His latest research shows the problem to be as acute as ever.

"We've got serious issues with the way we manage people and bring civility to the marketplace," he told BusinessNewsDaily. "Managing the human animal isn't like running a table saw or using a computer."

A lot of managers must have missed that memo, his latest study shows. It paints a disheartening portrait of how poisoned the supervisor-employee relationship has become. It's not a pretty picture.  More than 40 percent of the 400 mid-level employees surveyed said they wouldn't acknowledge their boss if they ran into each other on the street.

Another 32 percent indicated they work for a "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" and nearly a third (29 percent) said their boss would "throw them under the bus" to save his or her job.

The effects don't stop when the workday's over. Hochwarter's research showed that workers enduring such circumstance are stressed both at work and at home, are less willing to exert effort for the company good, experience sleep disturbances, report declining levels of self-worth and suffer from a variety of additional quality-of-life maladies.

Exacerbating the problem, Hochwarter said, is the lack of an alternative for millions of unhappy employees.

"For workers in declining industries such as construction and manufacturing, catching on with a company able to offer comparable wages has been virtually impossible," he said. "Plan B just doesn't exist for many employees at the level it did five or 10 years ago."

This is not Hochwarter’s first study to examine the tensions between workers and management in the American workplace. He has studied supervisor behaviors (39 percent failed to keep promises, for example); perpetration by management of the Seven Deadly Sins at work (41 percent of bosses were viewed as lazy, pushing their work on subordinates); and manager narcissism (31 percent of employees reported that their boss significantly exaggerated accomplishments). Hochwarter also has examined subordinates’ reactions to an abusive boss (27 percent have hidden from an abusive boss).

It's not that bosses are born evil, Hochwarter said. They are victims of a system that manages for the short-haul by numbers.

"We know that's going to come up and bite you," he said.

The kind of expediency we see in the workplace doesn't stop at the corner office; it trickles down through the ranks as workers model the behaviors they see that work for their bosses.  And the workplace reaps what it sows.

"Subordinates in my research are no angels," he said.

Reach BusinessNewsDaily senior writer Ned Smith at nsmith@techmedianetwork.com. Follow him on Twitter @nedbsmith.