Photo by Icons8 Team on Unsplash.
Photo by Icons8 Team on Unsplash.
  • A new study found that South African employees resign, avoid their manager or “shut off” emotionally when they have a “manager from hell”. 
  • The study was completed through interviews with employees in manufacturing, retail, financial services and the public sector. 
  • It found that positive coping mechanisms include exercising, finding solace in religion or spiritual, or seeking social support from friends or family. 
  • For more stories, go to Business Insider SA's home page.

South African employees tend to resign, avoid the presence of their manager, or “shut off” emotionally when they have a “manager from hell”, a new study found. 

A study by consulting psychologist Dr Beatrix Brink at Stellenbosch University explored employees’ experiences with destructive leadership behaviour in South African organisations and how they cope with it. 

She interviewed employees, mostly women, in the manufacturing, retail, financial services, community services and public sector to evaluate their experiences with poor managers. 

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Participants were also asked to complete the Psychological Capital Questionnaire which focuses on the individual’s ability to harness psychological resources such as hope, efficacy, resilience and optimism.

Brink found that South African employees use different coping strategies that vary in degree of effectiveness and range from healthy coping with positive outcomes to unhealthy coping with negative outcomes. 

Negative coping mechanisms include: 

  • Avoiding being in the presence of the manager while at work. 
  • Pretending that everything was fine. 
  • “Shutting off” emotionally.
  • Overeating.
  • Resigning. 

Brink said positive coping mechanisms include: 

  • Exercising 
  • Finding solace in religion or spirituality.
  • Seeking social and family support which included confiding in friends and family. 
  • Resorting to professional services, such as seeing a psychologist. 
  • Asking for assistance from their organisation’s Human Resources, 
  • Attempting to re-direct their thinking by looking for anything positive they could take away from the experience.

She said people practising healthy coping mechanisms tried to equip themselves with knowledge by seeking information on coping with a destructive leader’s behaviour.

“With varying degrees of success, they tried to stop the downward spiral of feeling overwhelmed and powerless,” Brink said. 

“They did this by asserting themselves and seeking pathways to circumvent the effects of the manager’s destructive behaviour.”

Brink said participants with destructive managers tend to experience self-doubt and questioned the skills and abilities they previously held in high regard.

“They became fearful and demotivated, experiencing emotions ranging from feeling stupid, tearful to anger. They became preoccupied with the experience and struggled to concentrate,” Brink said. 

“They stopped doing the things that gave them joy and some even started to mirror the manager’s negative behaviour in their personal relationships.”

(Compiled by James de Villiers) 

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