The Well-Being Journal

Bad Bosses, Bad Business

Jennifer Rudloff

The movie Horrible Bosses played last weekend to packed houses. While the audiences roared with laughter, I suspect many people recalled horror stories shared amongst friends throughout the years; and I know they weren’t alone. If you’ve been in the workforce for any length of time, chances are you have first hand experience dealing with your very own bad boss. While (we hope) the characters in this film were a caricature of real world experiences, the truth is many employees are feeling stressed and unappreciated and it’s straining not only on individuals but on organizations as well.

So how wide spread is the problem? And how do employees perceive their bosses? Wayne Hochwarter, a professor at Florida State University, has spent years studying boss-employee relationships with a focus on hostility, stress, and declining performance. His latest findings are shocking and uncover a sad state of affairs in employee/employer relations.

According to Hochwarter:

  • 40% of workers wouldn’t acknowledge their boss if they ran into them on the street.
  • 29% believed that their boss would throw them under the bus to save their own job.
  • 34% reported that their boss is two-faced, & speaks negatively behind their back.
  • 24% have caught their supervisor in a direct lie but never received an apology
  • 29% of employees have hidden from abusive bosses.
  • And while employees are constantly asked to produce and increase productivity, 41% of employees believe their bosses are just plain lazy.

Doesn’t paint a very pretty picture, does it? Unfortunately, we’re seeing similar trends reveal themselves in the Well-Being Index. The WBI shows work environment consistently coming in as the lowest scoring index. The score that’s dropped the most over time is ‘collaborative supervision’. The work environment has gotten more dog-eat-dog, unemployment is at record highs, and jobs are less plentiful. Supervisors can get away with being less collaborative and more command and control-oriented. Since employees need the job, they put up with more restrictive management styles.

Some good news: Employees ability to work to their strengths actually trended up. Lean workforces are the new normal and it’s allowing people to take on responsibilities that play well with their strengths. Unfortunately doing more with less can get exhausting and it’s wearing workforces thin.

So who’s suffering the most as the result of a poor work environment?

  • Gender: Females are more likely to report that they do not have a trusting work environment and lack collaborative supervision.
  • Marital Status: Fewer single people believe they have collaborative supervision and they feel they don’t get to use their strengths at work (this is likely a function of age)
  • Ethnicity: Hispanics have the highest work environment index scores, and African Americans have the lowest – there is a 12.3 point difference between the overall well-being scores of these two groups.
  • Income: As you might expect, scores for the work environment index increase directly with income with those making $120k or more per year achieving the highest overall scores. These higher scores are tied to their ability to use their strengths at work, and higher job satisfaction. Interestingly, trusting work environment does not seem to be impacted by income as much as other items.

So what’s the impact of a poor work environment? Reduced productivity, increased absenteeism and presenteeism, decreased loyalty, and more stress. It also makes people angry. We know that if people score poorly in the work environment, 31% of them report being angry for most of the previous day. Put into perspective, that level of anger is on par with the 100 poorest counties in the US, as well as the troubled countries of Sierra Leone and Haiti (ouch).

Employers must think about how they can foster healthy change in their workforces and leaders. It starts with changing the culture. We know that a collaborative environment – where management and workers voluntarily partner together, employees feel challenged, and everyone has the resources to get the job done – creates the best possible culture with the highest well-being. I challenge you and your organizations to some introspection: What can you do to increase collaboration and better support your people? And what’s standing in your way?

Topics: Relationships Well-Being Horrible Bosses Work Environment Business Performance Well-Being Index Competitive Advantage Performance/Productivity