According to the study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, the researchers surveyed 589 airline pilots and 468 manufacturing technicians and found that employees' safety behaviour can get worse when they are treated in ways that detract from their bonds to a work group.
"Bosses' behaviour can strengthen or weaken employees' sense of belonging to the work group by supporting or undermining their status within the group. Poor treatment from a boss can make employees feel that they are not valued by the group," said Liu-Qin Yang, Associate Professor at Portland State University.
This makes them more self-centered, leading them to occasionally forget to comply with safety rules or overlook opportunities to promote a safer work environment.
According to the researchers, this was especially true among employees who were more uncertain about their social standing within the group.
"When people are less sure about their strengths, weaknesses and their status within the group, they become more sensitive. They are more likely to respond negatively to their boss' bullying behaviours," she said.
Workplace safety is a critical issue -- and more so in an environment where one employee's failure to behave safely can create circumstances where other people are likely to be injured, said the researchers.
The study recommends implementing training programmes that can improve leadership skills while interacting with their employees so as to provide feedback in a way that are neither offensive nor threatening.
The study also suggested promoting a more civil and engaged work environment that strengthens social bonds between employees and creates a buffer against the negative consequences of their boss' bad behaviours.
According to researchers, implementing transparent performance evaluation processes are required so that employees have less uncertainty about their social status in the workplace.