An Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA)

Looking through my archive of publications, I came across my dissertation for my MSC in Business Psychology in 2015. It was an interesting IPA study on how older workers experience work related stress. One of the themes that emerged as a cause of work related stress was ‘manager as problematic’. I have shared a snippet of the analysis below,



This theme emerged as a cause of stress in Jake’s (not real name) account and aptly captures his metaphorical portrayal of his manager as a major source of stress, in the following sentences:

“But the manager that I have comes up to me and she says, the other day. She said, “these mistakes that you’re making must really stop”. And I said, “but, what mistakes have I made?” You’ve got a full stop after a question mark”.

“And she just explodes on the small things”

“But if I go to her and say “can you help me? This doesn’t look right” . She goes, “well, you have to go and find that for yourself, otherwise, you’ll never learn”

“And then, she comes out screaming over the other office, “where’s this information?, when I ask for it, I want it”. But I can’t get it. “I don’t care. I want it”

“And if she was supportive, I could get there a lot quicker. But she’s not. She’s destructive, you know “

“You start feeling dizzy. You just think, well, I can.t… what am I going to do with this? I can’t cope with it”.


Jake portrays himself as a victim of abusive supervision and this is the way he understands his experience of stress. A victim, subjected to the unfair and unsupportive treatment of a boss and struggling to survive. The experience of stress is both physical and emotional. The researcher clearly recalls being filled with empathy for Jake during the interview session.

‘Abusive supervision’ is recognized in occupational health literature and is defined as “sustained display of hostile verbal (barking orders & yelling at employees) or non-verbal behaviors, excluding physical contact” (Tepper, 2000, p.178). It affects employee wellbeing and has been associated with psychological distress (Rafferty, Restubog & Jimmieson, 2010). Managers are responsible for at least 70% variance in the wellbeing and engagement of their subordinates. Leaders with empathy create more positive work environments which facilitate better interpersonal interactions.

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