Bosses behaving badly

It's Monday morning and the drive to work is one of angst for many property executives. A growing number of workers are vexed by something far simpler than getting budgets turned in: a bad boss.

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As more companies take on Wal-Mart-esque business practices and prioritize fast profit to the detriment of staff and work environments, the long view to profitability based on employee morale is abandoned. This gives way to more and more poorly trained supervisors, and an onslaught of unethical behavior in the workplace.

Bad bosses have long made headlines, from Ken Lay to Sandy Weill, but a recent study from Florida State University suggests that the number of bad bosses is an ongoing trend, a disheartening thought for property operators already feeling the crunch of a changing workforce.

Nearly two in five bosses don’t keep their word and more than a quarter bad mouth those they supervise to co-workers, the study shows. This could present a problem for the multihousing industry, as one of the country’s largest employers in property construction and management.”How many people have switched companies and even vocations because of a supervisor?” asked Wayne Hochwarter, associate professor of management at Florida State’s College of Business. Hochwarter, along with two doctoral students, surveyed 700 people working in a variety of jobs as to how they were treated by their bosses. With regard to hostile supervisors in the workplace, Hochwarter said, “I think it’s pretty common.”Such managers adversely effect a company’s bottom line. At the very least, bad managers lead to poor morale, less productivity and higher turnover.

“They say that employees don’t leave their job or company, they leave their boss,” said Hochwarter. “No abuse should be taken lightly, especially in situations where it becomes a criminal act,” said Hochwarter.

Employees in caustic work environments experienced exhaustion, job tension, nervousness, depression and mistrust, researchers determined. They also found that a good working environment is often more important than pay, and that it’s no coincidence that poor morale leads to lower productivity.

“Employees were less likely to take on additional tasks, such as working longer or on weekends, and were generally less satisfied with their job,” the study found. “Also, employees were more likely to leave if involved in an abusive relationship than if dissatisfied with pay.” The results of the study will publish in the Fall 2007 issue of The Leadership Quarterly.

Workers in bad situations should remain optimistic, Hochwarter said. “It is important to stay positive, even when you get irritated or discouraged, because few subordinate-supervisor relationships last forever,” he said. “You want the next boss to know what you can do for the company.”

Hochwarter blames an increasingly callous society, as well as a technologically driven work force that has blurred the lines between work time and home time.

“There’s a real lack of consideration and thoughtfulness in society,” he said. “People are so focused on doing things now and beating deadlines that they’re unwilling to think about empathy and what the other person needs.”

And there’s always a trail. “Others know who the bullies are at work,” Hochwarter said. “They likely have a history of mistreating others.”

Hochwarter recommends minimizing the harm caused by an abusive supervisor.

“Stay visible at work,” he said. “Hiding can be detrimental to your career, especially when it keeps others in the company from noticing your contributions.”

Milton Moskowitz, who with Robert Levering of San Francisco’s Great Place to Work Institute conducts a survey of the best companies to work for, said he is surprised to see such high levels of animosity.

“I don’t think it’s so hard — to have a workplace where employees feel valued”, Moskowitz said. “You have to have a will for it to happen, and a CEO and management who make it happen.” Their “Best Companies To Work For” study will be published this month in Fortune magazine.