Good Boss, Bad Boss

Figure 1: Ratings of Good and Bad Bosses
Figure 1: Ratings of Good and Bad Bosses

Some of us are lucky enough to have worked for someone that inspired us and made us more motivated and productive than we thought possible.  Regrettably, most of us would agree that the opposite occurs much more often.  How many times have you heard from your employees that their supervisor reduces their motivation instead of enhancing it?  Research regularly demonstrates that who I work for is one of the most important predictors of my engagement, satisfaction, and productivity.  Depending on the study, it even outranks my relationship with coworkers and interest in the work assigned.

A recent HCS survey (HCS Good Boss, Bad Boss Assessment 2013) examined several facets of the dichotomy between the good and bad boss.  Not surprisingly, the study found that most of us work for average or bad bosses.  Using a sample of 5,000 employees in 25 organizations, only eight percent of respondents categorized their boss as exceptional.  Conversely, approximately 70 percent characterized their boss as poor at being a leader and manager (See Figure 1).  Recognizing that the results are based on perceptions, it still offers some interesting suppositions for us to consider.

Among those working for exceptional bosses, they ranked their engagement more than 300 percent higher than those with a poor quality boss did.  When categorizing their productivity, they placed it more than 50 percent higher.  When asking respondents about their interest in leaving their current job, only 14 percent of those looking come from organizations with an exceptional boss.  None of the results reveals any real surprises.  We all know that better bosses create better work environments.  Something to consider further is the small difference between poor and average.  The gap is much smaller between poor and average than average and exceptional.  In many ways, it mirrors what we might observe in any occupation.

The more interesting part of the survey related to what happens when a bad boss replaces a good boss.  Most of us have seen a team that performed well under a competent leader fall apart once the previous leader moves on and the replacement fails to have the same capabilities.  Among this limited sample, the average decrease in productivity was more than 25 percent while engagement decreased by almost 100 percent in the first three months.  Moreover, the average number looking for other jobs (94 percent compared to 71 percent) was higher than the rate when a bad boss remained.  In other words, an employee is more likely to look to leave when losing a good boss, then when having a bad boss for an extended period.

What can we conclude from this research that we can use in our daily lives?

  • The qualities and capabilities of our leaders matter;
  • Being average provides much less benefit than having an exceptional boss;
  • One of the best ways to address productivity is to start with our leaders and accumulate as many good bosses as possible.