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Lead Your Team Managing

Dark or Dysfunctional? The Two Types of Bad Bosses

Dark or Dysfunctional? The Two Types of Bad Bosses
Credit: Peter Bernik/Shutterstock

Although bad bosses can create a great deal of stress in their employees, they’re not all bad in the same way.

A study recently published in the Research in Occupational Stress and Well-Being book series revealed that bad managers typically fall into one of two categories: dysfunctional or dark.

Seth Spain, one of the study's authors and an assistant professor at Binghamton University in New York, said a dysfunctional boss, such as Steve Carell's Michael Scott from "The Office," is someone who isn't out to hurt you.

"Through lack of skill, or other personality defects, they're just not very good at their job," Spain said in a statement. "Largely, that's what we would call 'dysfunctional.'"

On the other side, dark bosses, like Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) from the movie "Wall Street," are much more destructive and hurt others in order to elevate themselves, according to Spain. [See Related Story: Is Your Boss a 'Successful Psychopath'? Here's How to Tell]

"[These are] people who enjoy the pain and suffering of others – they're going to be mean, abusive and harassing in daily life," he said.

While these are the two distinct types of bad bosses, that doesn't mean that every bad boss is 100 percent on either side of the equation. In the studies, authors note that managers can display varying degrees of these characteristics.

Regardless of their style, both types of bad bosses can inflict a great deal of stress on those who report to them.

"A person's direct supervisor is a lens through which they view their work experience," Spain said. "We think, in particular, that a boss can be an incredibly substantial source of stress for people who work for them."

The study's authors believe that having a better understanding of the different types of bad bosses can the first step in helping to change their behavior, which in the end could result in reduced stress among employees.

"We believe that these characteristics are extremely important for understanding employee development and career advancement," Spain said. "Understanding the role that these characteristics play in stress experiences at work is extremely important, especially since bad leaders can cause so much suffering for their subordinates."

The study was co-authored by Peter Harms, an assistant professor at the University of Alabama, and Dustin Wood, a research fellow at the University of Alabama.

Chad Brooks

Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based freelance writer who has nearly 15 years experience in the media business. A graduate of Indiana University, he spent nearly a decade as a staff reporter for the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, covering a wide array of topics including, local and state government, crime, the legal system and education. Following his years at the newspaper Chad worked in public relations, helping promote small businesses throughout the U.S. Follow him on Twitter.