Abusive managers, once abused youths, are costing companies dearly, study says

September 15, 1990|By Fernando Goncalves | Fernando Goncalves,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- American corporations are losing $3 billion to $5 billion annually as a result of managers who, once abused as children, abuse their own employees, according to a report published Thursday by the Bureau of National Affairs, an independent publishing company.

The report, which focuses on the relationship between the workplace and family history, said that one in four supervisors often yells at subordinates, unfairly criticizes them or engages in other forms of abusive behavior that seriously undermine business productivity.

Deborah Anderson and Jack Militello, two Minnesota consultants who contributed to the report, say managers who were subjected to abusive treatment during their childhoods tend to run their businesses by incorporating the values their parents taught them.

Ms. Anderson is president of RESPOND 2 Inc., a consulting group that works with Minneapolis-St. Paul area employers to develop programs to prevent family violence. Mr. Militello is an assistant professor of business at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul.

The consultants say in their study that employees who are abused by managers "look like kids in families experiencing abuse ... They have more health problems, poor peer relations and can't concentrate."

The study adds that only efficient

corporations keep communication lines open with all their employees, communicating to them the feeling that they are valued.

However, the survey observes that the problem of abuse at workplaces is declining as a younger generation of employees moves into managerial positions.

"Younger employees have better understanding of human behavior than their parents and understand that the way they manage has a lot to do with the way they are raised," the study says.

Managers under the age of 40 are aware of consultative management styles, it said, while those over 50 were raised never to question their parents -- or business superiors.

"Younger managers [under 40], unlike many of their parents, often are aware of the effects of their actions and are more willing to examine their behavior," the study says.

The study urges employers to change the concept that their employees' private lives do not concern them and to start programs that can reduce domestic violence and improve workers' performance and productivity.

Researchers indicate that domestic violence is on the rise. According to the Victim Services Agency, a New York City-based organization that helps crime victims, an act of domestic violence takes place every 18 seconds somewhere in the United States.

The agency says that 6 million wives and 280,000 husbands are abused every year by their spouses and that more women are injured in domestic violence than in rapes, muggings and automobile accidents combined.

Citing National Committee for the Prevention of Child Abuse figures, the corporate study says that about 2 million children are abused each year and that 2,000 die each year as a direct result of abuse.

The study says that more involvement by corporations in preventing violence in their employees' families is the only way to keep U.S. businesses competitive internationally.

The study offers an example of a "highly trained, technically competent executive" whose subordinates have a difficult time with his management style:

"He constantly changes positions and directions, making it difficult to determine where he stands on issues from day to day; he regularly embarrasses employees by scolding them in front of their peers; and he makes fun of those he considers 'weak.'"

The executive, in revelations to his company's employee assistance program counselor, said his alcoholic father displayed similar behavior -- happy and supportive one day and mean and abusive the next, the study says. As a result, the son at age 14 asked to be sent away to boarding school.

Change has to begin both at the workplace and at the family level, said Mr. Militello, adding that U.S. corporate management styles resemble military discipline.

"We have to change this military style," he said.

Mr. Militello said that most companies tend to look at managers' performance from the point of view of efficiency, overlooking human relations. That, he said, makes the companies more protective of their managers.

"If a manager gets good returns, the organization will not question his relationship with the employees. Yet he might have performed well by beating up and harassing his staff," he said.

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