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American Management Association Survey Shows How the Boss's Character Affects Employee Productivity, Retention

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New York 10/1/2008

The Performance Premium of Kindness

If you feel that your boss is kind, chances are you look forward to going to work every day, you’re more likely to put in a little extra effort, and you might even delay that search for a new job. But if you work for a boss who is a bully, all bets are off. That’s according to a new survey conducted by American Management Association (AMA) that examines how a boss’s character affects employee performance and retention rates.

AMA surveyed 662 members and customers on a number of workplace issues and character traits. First the good news: 75% of respondents regarded their supervisors as “kind.” Now the bad news: 14% of respondents indicated that their supervisors were, in fact, “bullies.” The remaining 11% were neutral about their boss’s character. According to the survey results, kind managers are associated with superior performance in a number of ways.

“The AMA survey clearly shows how employee-manager relationships influence performance, productivity and even bottom-line results,” said Edward T. Reilly, president and CEO of American Management Association. “It’s the law of reciprocity: When a manager shows concern, his or her employees, in turn, support the manager. They do this by putting forth a maximum effort, being more dedicated to the organization, and by helping to achieve corporate goals.”

The AMA survey asked respondents if they plan to work for their company for a long time. According to the results, 84% of employees who report to kind managers said yes, whereas only 47% of employees who report to bullies agreed. Similarly, when asked if respondents look forward to going to work every day, 74% of employees with kind bosses said yes, while only 32% of employees with bullies as bosses agreed.

Thus, one cost of unkind bosses is most likely higher turnover of employees who know the difference between being respected and not.

But there is a more direct cost as well: Productivity. The AMA survey asked if respondents worked as hard as they could: 70% of employees who report to kind bosses said yes, whereas only 54% of employees who report to bullies agreed.

Put succinctly, those who have unkind managers don’t try as hard at work. What’s more, in this age in which moral lapses have cost companies countless dollars, both real one's and reputational one's, it is interesting to note how employees view their supervisors.

According to the AMA survey results, 93% of people who report to kind managers say that their boss has high ethical standards, whereas only 48% of people who report to bullies agreed. Similarly, when asked if their boss displayed humility, integrity and authenticity, 81% of those with kind bosses said yes, while only 12% of employees with bully bosses agreed.

Researchers asked employees how honest, open and direct they can be with their bosses, and how responsive their bosses are to the feedback. Being able to share vital information is of great interest to organizations—and withholding it because a boss isn’t approachable is cause for concern.

“Employees who had kind bosses were much more likely to report being able to speak openly and candidly with their boss than those who indicated that their boss was a bully,” said William Baker, author of Leading with Kindness: How Good People Consistently Get Superior Results (published by AMACOM). “This survey shows that kind bosses are told what’s going on in their companies by their subordinates. The bullies are not. Could this say something about the recent economic meltdown? Maybe some of the leaders could have prevented major problems if they heard more from the line workers or had acted on what they did hear,” Baker said.

According to the survey, 73% of people who report to kind managers say they can speak openly and candidly with bosses, whereas only 42% of people who report to bullies agreed. Similarly, when asked whether their boss really listened to what is said, 84% of those with kind bosses said yes, whereas only 24% of those with bully bosses agreed.

Transfer of reliable information and coordination of activities are requisites for superior organizational performance. If information is retained by those who have the best access to it, then companies are bound to suffer as a result.

About AMA
American Management Association is a world leader in professional development, advancing the skills of individuals to drive business success. AMA’s approach to improving performance combines experiential learning—learning through doing—with opportunities for ongoing professional growth at every step of one’s career journey. AMA supports the goals of individuals and organizations through a complete range of products and services, including seminars, Webcasts, podcasts, corporate and government solutions, business books and research. Organizations worldwide, including the majority of the Fortune 500, turn to AMA as their trusted partner in professional development and draw upon its experience to enhance skills, abilities and knowledge with noticeable results from day one. For more information, visit http://www.amanet.org/.