It’s just what you always suspected and now a new study confirms it: the meaner your boss, the more likely he or she is to get ahead in the world. If you work for a jerk, you won’t get much comfort from research that shows tyrant masters tend to be the ones who get promoted even as they ironically deflate their own employees’ productivity.
An online study by Anthony Don Erickson, Ben Shaw and Zha Agabe of Bond University, Australia, presented at the 2007 Annual Meeting of the Academy of Management shows two thirds of those responding said their unbearable bosses were either never disciplined for their behaviour or actually rewarded for it. And according to the researchers, that’s a red flag that many companies are ignoring at their peril.
Respondents reported that about 65% of bad leaders either got away with it, or were rewarded with things like promotion despite their lack of skill. This is not a random sample of any known population, it is based on an internet survey, but it is consistent with other published research on bullies.
About 29% of respondents indicated that the principal impact of bad leaders on them personally was in engendering such serious stress symptoms as insomnia, bad dreams, general fatigue, and loss of concentration. About 16% blamed a bad leader for emotional effects, such as hating one’s job, dreading going to work, and feeling depressed about work life; another 15% identified negative effects on personal relationships outside the workplace.
The authors advocated intervention by CEOs to stop fledgling office authoritarians from rising up the ranks. “As with any sort of cancer, the best alternative to prevention is early detection,” they wrote.
They faulted senior managers for not recognising the signs of workplace strife wrought by bad bosses. “The leaders above them who did nothing, who rewarded and promoted bad leaders… represent an additional problem,” they said.
Asked whether they believed that the particular bad leader they singled out was widely viewed as bad, about 90% indicated that this was the case.
Not a pretty picture! When organisations have and actually enforce no asshole rules, however, the bullies are a lot less likely to get away with their abuse.