- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 29, 2002

Fierce-tempered taskmaster or tolerable bumbler? Given a choice, most employees would opt for an abusive boss over an incompetent one any day, a new study reveals.
Ohio State University sociologist Richard Hodson analyzed the woes of 108 different workplaces to find that incompetence is a greater sin than annoying behavior, at least among supervisors.
"Working in chaos and mismanagement is far more stressful to an employee because it happens every day," Mr. Hodson said. "Bad boss behavior usually is not so chronic. It's not necessarily the norm. Employees can figure out ways to work around abusive managers."
The boss's occasional big tantrum can be fodder for gossip and eventually company legend over time. But a mismanaged workplace can do much more damage to employee morale and productivity, Mr. Hodson said.
"Of course, dealing with a boss's behavior can be stressful," he said. "But supervisor incompetence can undermine everything, even between employees who start blaming each other for problems or jockeying for position."
Such shenanigans don't help the company, either. A recent Gallup poll found that "poorly managed work groups" are 50 percent less productive and 44 percent less profitable than their well-managed counterparts.
Then there's the emotional side to consider, or "workplace dignity," Mr. Hodson said. He found that employees simply want to "take pride from their work and gain meaning from it."
An eight-hour struggle each day robs them of the opportunity.
"Employees don't want to be involved in chaotic, mismanaged workplaces, where nothing gets done well and people feel like they can't be effective," he said.
Employees resort to all sorts of things to counter lousy job environments. Some practice "effort bargaining," Mr. Hodson said easing up on their personal efforts until changes are made. Others play dumb, play hooky, overlook rules and undermine their managers as "resistance."
The cure for these ills is not necessarily rocket science. Bosses who provide appropriate staffing and decent tools of the trade for their employees go a long way toward countering the problem, as do those who avoid "senseless bureaucracy."
Meanwhile, Mr. Hodson is developing an analysis of "management citizenship behavior" to determine the impact of supervisors' personalities on both the workplace and that endless employee search for harmony on the job.
All this discord has become a veritable cottage industry for the self-help crowd. There are hundreds of books analyzing the weird possibilities of the nation's bosses. They are called dumb, dysfunctional, difficult; at least a dozen books urge employees to "manage" their managers.
"Stress is in the eye of the beholder," said one American Psychological Association advisory. "What may cause one employee stress in the workplace may not even cause a ripple of concern to another."
At least one online service allows disgruntled but chicken-hearted employees to anonymously e-mail bosses to advise them if they are "self-absorbed" or "sickly sweet," along with a spectrum of other less-than-desirable traits.
But the bosses have not been left out of the equation. Recent popular titles for struggling supervisors include "The Boss's Survival Guide," "Bossing Without Being Bossy" and "Your Boss is Not Your Mother," among other things.


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