Verbal Abuse

Is Your Motivation Motivational?

I still remember parts of the first halftime “pep talk” from my American football coach my senior year in high school. Many of the words could not be repeated here and the finale came to a crescendo as he kicked the film projector and sent it flying across the room. That little move set him back a few hundred dollars because the principal (who later became my father-in-law) made him pay for that bit of destruction from his own pocket.

Coaches, and periodically managers at work, sometimes yell, scream, criticize, or belittle in order to motivate employees and players to higher performance. But does it work as expected? Does it help motivate players and workers to perform better.

The answer seems to be “no.”

In a recent study*, researchers asked employees how often their supervisors verbally abused them by putting them down or deriding them. They also asked them if the supervisors were trying to motivate them to do better by doing the ridiculing.

One month later, they asked the same employees if they had done any undermining behaviors such as stealing from the company or purposely wasting work time. The employees who felt abused acted in counterproductive behaviors much more often.

The interesting thing is that even if the employees felt like the supervisor meant it for good—that is to motivate—it still produced bad behavior. The undermining behaviors were aimed at the supervisor and at the organization as a whole.

It is important to remember that employees who are happy and feel valued will be more productive and will stay with a company longer. A kind and compassionate workplace is a winning situation for the organization and the employees.

Verbal abuse, no matter what the intent, causes harm and negatively impacts the organization in tangible ways.

So whether you are a football coach, a team leader, or a line supervisor: Be kind to improve the bottom line.

*Kevin J. Eschleman, Nathan A. Bowling, Jesse S. Michel, Gary N. Burns. Perceived intent of supervisor as a moderator of the relationships between abusive supervision and counterproductive work behaviours. Work & Stress, 2014; 1

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