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Don’t be the boss everyone hates

We have all had a boss who thought that the definition of motivation was to combine acerbic tongue-lashings with threats of job loss, poor performance reviews or just plain public ridicule. Here’s how not to be that manager in the eyes of your staff.

In fact, a 2007 survey by Zogby revealed that 72 percent of workplace bullies were actually bosses who heaped abuse on their direct reports. But how effective is this type of ‘motivation’ in the workplace?

Workplace jerks

According to Bob Sutton, author and supporter of evidence-based management, not very. “You cant be a great boss if you don’t keep your inner jerk in check” says Sutton in his book ‘Good Boss, Bad Boss’.

He continues, “Bullies do collateral damage as well, provoking anxiety, despair and withdrawal among employees who witness their nastiness. The 2007 Zogby survey suggested that when the impact on victims and witnesses are combined, bullies have driven over 20 million U.S employees from their jobs.”

Those that do stick it out in negative work environments can hardly be described as motivated either. In fact, Wayne Hochwarter and Samantha Engelhard’s survey of 180 employees found that those with abusive bosses were five times more likely to admit to slowing down or making errors on purpose.

Disgruntled employees

The effects of poor management techniques extend to outside of the workplace as well. A study by Lynn Taylor Consulting in 2010 found that employees spend 19.2 hours each week (13 hours during the work week and 6.2 hours on the weekend) fretting about “what a boss said or did.”

In her article for Psychology Today, Lynn Taylor says, “The research illustrates the tremendous drain that a manager’s words and actions can have on the minds and work product of its most valued asset—people. With spillover anxiety on weekends reaching 3.1 hours a day, this further underscores how critical the boss/employee dynamic truly is.”

The reality is that for many, difficult work environments can be more than just a strain on productivity and motivation. According to Know Bull!, an Australian-based anti-bullying website, there is a greater chance that you will be murdered at work than die in a plane crash. They highlight research that found  “an average of 33,000 employees are assaulted at work and 17 employees are murdered at work each week.”

With statistics like this, should we really be practicing ‘tough love’ or various forms of punishment as motivation in the workplace?

Corporate Ethics

Thankfully, not all workplaces are putting up with this type of behaviour from their employees and management. In 2011, Barclays Chief Executive, Bob Diamond, imposed a ‘no jerks’ rule in his corporation. Walking the walk, he then fired 30 staff for breaking his new ethics rule.

In an interview with The Guardian, he said, “If someone can’t behave with their colleagues and can’t be part of the culture, it doesn’t matter how good they are at what they do, they have to be asked to leave.”

So, if corporate punishment isn’t getting the results organisations are craving, what is the best way to inspire your workforce?

Tim Sharp, the Chief Happiness Officer at The Happiness Institute believes that a better way to motivate employees is to help them find a “positive and energising vision of the future” (attractive goals), then to break these goals down into small, manageable/achievable steps.

Sharp also believes that used correctly, praise can inspire your workforce. “According to the research, we’re better off praising/rewarding processes rather than outcomes,” he says. “That is, the focus of the praise should be on the effort and attempts and what the person is trying to do, rather than purely on the successful achievement of a goal”. Sharp uses the example of rewarding studying and learning, rather than on exam marks or grades.

He believes that by “diligently working away and then providing positive reinforcement for each and every small achievement or step in the right direction” we can create an environment that motivates employees and helps them to find happiness.

Sally Heggart, a recruitment consultant that has worked with businesses such as Fitness First Australia, believes that in the current employment climate, with a global talent shortage making good help hard to find, workplaces need to change their tactics.

“Companies need to move away from allowing management to use motivational techniques such as negative reinforcement. If they are looking to create longevity in tenure, they need to create inspirational workplaces that help and support their employees, in the right ways, to achieve their goals and to be more happy.”

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Cassandra Lane

Cassandra Lane

Cassandra Lane is a freelance writer, editor and proofreader based in Sydney, Australia. With a particular interest in health, nutrition, fitness, lifestyle, business and automotive she aims to write interesting, well-researched pieces that inform, motivate, inspire and churn the imaginations of her readers. She has seven years experience (with no sign of an itch) and has been published in both online and print mediums across commercial and corporate publications. Visit her website at www.writinginthefastlane.com or follow her on twitter.

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