Work Matters

Straight Talk and Solid Evidence About Organizational Life

Dear Bosses: Is It Your Last Chance To Reverse Your Vile Ways? Or Is It Too Late?

Job Growth is Bad News for Bad Bosses

I was delighted to read that, finally, we saw some serious job growth last month in the United States, with 162,000 new jobs added in March.  When this bright news is blended with the recent Conference Board study showing that employee dissatisfaction is at an all time high (less than half of Americans are satisfied with their jobs, down from 61% in 2005, and workers under 25 are especially dissatisfied), it suggests that a lot of companies and bosses better come to grips with the fact that many of their best people are laying in wait, patiently grinding out the days, but will dash for the exits when the job market gets better.

As much research shows -- by Gallup and many academics too -- people quit bosses, not organizations for the most part. If you are a boss and believe that your people love you and will never leave you, well, it just might be a good time to look in the mirror.   As I've discussed elsewhere, the very act of wielding power can make you blind to how your subordinates are really responding to you.  And, of course, given the lack of options, many smart employees (especially those with emotional control and long-term time perspectives) realize that the wisest strategy is to stay on the good side of a bad boss to avoid negative performance reviews and the demotions or firings that often follow -- and so they will get good recommendations when they try to land a better job (and boss) down the road.  This means, dear bosses, that you may well be victim to a game of mutual deception, where you are deluding yourself into believing that you are great at your job, but if you really knew how it felt to work for you, you would be shocked to discover that you are seen as an asshole, incompetent, or both.  AND your most able employees are helping you sustain this delusion to protect themselves in the short-term and keep their options open in the long-term.

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After these years of cost-cutting and treating employees as if they are damn lucky to have a job, we are seeing hints that the balance of power is starting to swing back back to employees. A lot of companies and bosses have treated their people badly during the rough last few years -- doing far damage than is necessary (as I have written about in Harvard Business Review article and talk about in this related video on the McKinsey site).  It is probably too late for many lousy employers and managers out there to reverse course, as even if they try to do so, their people will  rightfully see it is an inauthentic ploy.  But a good start for many companies might be to try to figure out who your worst bosses are and make an extra effort to reform or (if necessary) remove them as quickly as you  can.  And even if you have been a truly good boss -- or good company -- during these tough times, it might be a good time to take stock and consider how to treat your people even better and find out what they really need to be happy and perform well on their jobs -- and do everything within your power to give to them. 

I would be very curious to hear from readers: If you are a boss, are you stepping up your efforts to treat your people well?   What about those of you out there with good bosses?  Is the research right?  Have you built up loyalty that will persist when the good times return?   And what about those of you with crummy bosses, have you been waiting, patiently, to politely tell your vile overseer to take this job and shove it when something better comes along?

Bob Sutton is an organizational psychologist, Stanford professor, and author of five books including bestseller The No Asshole Rule and Good Boss, Bad Boss (September, 2010).

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