The following is a guest post by our board member, Dr. Steven Hunt. He recently had the opportunity to interview Bob Sutton, Stanford professor and author of the popular book “The No A**hole Rule” (Business Plus press, 2007). The title Bob chose for his book is provocative, but the topic is serious. Bullying behavior by bosses at work can degrade employee productivity faster than just about any other poor management practice. With Steve’s permission, I’ve taken the liberty of masking the potentially offensive “a**hole” term for readers. Here is Steve’s otherwise unaltered guest post:
One thing that really impressed me about Bob’s work is that, despite the somewhat irreverent title of his book, the book is based on a lot of in-depth, rigorous empirical research. A tremendous amount of time has been spent studying the notion of a**holes and how they impact business performance. Most of this research doesn’t actually use the term “a**hole”, opting instead for more socially appropriate terms like “bully”, “jerks”, or “emotionally insensitive”. But the focus is the same: what is the impact of having individuals in a company who treat others in a way that makes them feel demeaned, emotionally hurt, or otherwise hurts their sense of self-esteem? What is clear from this research is that a**holes have serious, lasting and damaging consequences to a company’s bottom line.
One item of research discussed in the “No A**hole Rule” struck me as being of particular interest to many of the readers of the Workforce Institute website. Hourly employees are much more likely to skip work if they feel their supervisor is an a**hole This by itself is probably not that surprising. But what is more interesting is that hourly employees who dislike their boss will not necessarily miss more work on a regular basis. Instead they will choose not to come in to work on those days when they have some reasonable excuse (for example, during a snowstorm). Of course, it is during these times when companies are likely to most want employees to make the extra effort to show up.
In sum, when a supervisor acts like an a**hole to his/her direct reports the way direct reports get back at this person is through not helping them out when they are most needed. This just another reason why companies should be serious about weeding out supervisors who treat employees in a cruel or demeaning manner.
It would be nice to live in a world where we don’t need research to justify to companies why they should not hire or retain a**holes. But sadly, as Bob also points out in his book, a great many companies tolerate a**holes rather than recognizing them for the damaging influence that they are.
This is just one of many very interesting facts and insights I gained from interviewing Bob and reading his book “The No A**hole Rule”. If you’d like to hear my full interview with Bob Sutton, you can check it out at the following site: http://www.successfactors.com/podcast/bob-sutton/