Managers and leadership
The management of an organization is considered a key factor to its success. Management includes formal aspects such as structure, goals, rules and routines - but also about culture, social norms, behaviors and values. In this regard, managers and leaders play a very important role. Research clearly shows the importance of leadership for the physical as well as organizational and social work environment.
The behaviors of managers often have a direct impact on employees' attitudes, health, behaviors, performance and job satisfaction. When it comes to the manager perspective, however, such as managers’ experiences and attitudes to their own leadership, as well as experiences of being exposed to bullying and harassment, the research is scarcer. The research theme Managers and Leadership aims to increase knowledge regarding leadership aspects that are related to a good and healthy workplace, but also to contribute to increased insights on what creates good and sustainable conditions for managers and leaders in organizations.
Managers in the firing line. Managers who have been targeted bullying and/or managers who have been accused of bullying
Bullying in the workplace is often highlighted in the public debate, as it is a serious work environment problem and, by extension, a societal problem. Previous research on bullying has mostly focused on the manager as the perpetrator. Thus, little is known about managers who are the ones instead being bullied. Despite limited research on the subject, the literature agrees that managers can really be the target of workplace bullying from employees, colleagues, and senior managers.
The overall purpose of the study is to investigate bullying from a manager perspective, focusing on managers who have been exposed to bullying and managers who have been accused of bullying others. Both existing register data and semi-structured interviews were used in the study.
The register data that was already collected included about 250,000 individuals, of which about 18,000 were managers from different sectors. The second part of the study was conducted with a qualitative method, semi-structured interviews, to explore and describe how managers who themselves have been exposed to bullying or have been accused for having exposed others to bullying experienced and handled such a situation. 22 managers participated who had been bullied and seven who had been accused of others for bullying.
To analyze the quantitative data, descriptive analyzes were conducted to investigate the differences between bullied and non-bullied, t-tests were used. Modified Poisson regression was also performed in the analyzes of bullying and various stress-related factors.
The interviews were analyzed using content analysis.
The results from the register data show that 3.2% of managers stated that they had been bullied. A slightly higher proportion of women than men who are managers have experienced bullying, 3.5% of women and 2.8% of men respectively. Furthermore, the results show that managers who are bullied to a higher extent estimated that they were exhausted (29%), depressed (5%), had poor sleep quality (25%), were not rested (42%), had difficulty sleeping due to the work (26%) and had a tense job (36%) compared to managers who were not bullied. Being exposed to bullying increased the risk of developing stress and mental illness between 1.6 and 3 times. The psychosocial work environment was also rated as lower by the bullied managers compared to those who were not exposed to bullying. The results showed that a higher proportion of female than male managers had experienced stress-related symptoms, such as fatigue.
Results from the interview study show that the managers how were new to their positions, that their roles and responsibilities were unclear and that there was a negative view of leadership within the organization and organizational changes were characteristics of situations where bullying occurred. The by-standard effect, lack of action and lack of support were factors that allowed the bullying to continue. Action strategies used by the bullied managers were, among other things, focused on solving the problem by seeking support from others or confronting those who exposed them. Another strategy was that the bullied manager instead used strategies to avoid the negative situation by isolating himself from the others in the organization. The majority of the interviewed managers ended their managerial service after a period of sick leave.
The accused managers reported that they were accused in connection with conflicts in the working group or when they themselves conflicted with individual employees. What prevented the situation from improving was that there was a spread of rumors and inadequate investigations. Management support was crucial for the managers to handle their work situation while the accusations were ongoing.
The conclusion that can be drawn from all the studies is that bullying of managers can occur in all types of organizations. To prevent bullying, it turned out to be mainly organizational factors that should be considered.
Researchers, project time and funding
Involved researchers were Christina Björklund, Elisabeth Björk Brämberg, Cecilia Åkerblom, Irene Jensen and Therese Hellman.
The project started 2015 and lasted until 2018.
The project was financed by AFA insurance, https://www.afaforsakring.se.
Björklund, C.; Hellman, T.; Jensen, I.; Åkerblom, C.; Björk Brämberg, E. (2019). Workplace Bullying as Experienced by Managers and How They Cope: A Qualitative Study of Swedish Managers. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 16:1-15. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph16234693.
A generational shift is taking place in the labor market as many senior managers retire and important managerial positions need to be filled by the younger generation. The issue has been raised in recent years, due to surveys showing that many younger individuals hesitate to assume managerial roles and that young managers often describe their work in terms of fatigue, stress, and anxiety for working life.
There are considerable indications that the demands and expectations that is placed on today's managers by their organizations, make the younger generation feel that it’s not worth while taking on a managerial role. The requirements are perceived as even more pressing in a life phase where many start up a family. However, existing research that illustrates young people's experience of leadership and factors that influence young people's proneness to assume leadership roles is limited.
The general aim of the project is to gain increased knowledge about young managers' (up to 35 years) experience of their role and work situation as managers.
Specific research questions within the project:
- What makes young people take on a managerial role?
- What ideas do they have about leadership?
- How do young managers perceive their own leadership?
- How is the health of young managers?
- What are the main risk factors in young managers' work situation/work environment?
- What are the main factors that motivate young people to develop and choose to continue taking on managerial tasks (promotion factors)?
- What constitutes an attractive workplace for young managers?
- What support do young managers receive from the organization?
- How do the young managers view the organization's commitment to their work environment and health?
The project consists of three parts: quantitative studies with existing and new data, a qualitative interview study to deepen the knowledge regarding the results that emerged in the first part, and a part where proposals of actions and interventions are developed based on the first two parts.
The results are expected to contribute to increased knowledge and a deeper understanding of young managers and how they experience themselves in the leadership role, how they perceive their work situation/environment based on risk and promoting factors, and what strategies companies use to support young managers development in their leadership role. The results will also provide insights into how employers can best support young managers so that they choose to continue developing in their leadership role instead of leaving their assignment and their leadership career. Based on the study's results and conclusions, a tool will be developed that can be used practically to create a sustainable work situation for young managers at a more strategic level.
Researchers, project time and funding
The project started in 2019 and continues to 2023.
The project is funded by AFA Insurance.
Larsson, G., & Björklund, C. Age and leadership. Comparison of age groups in different kinds of environment. Management Research Review. (Accepted).