Published on August 23, 2012

I was struck by Jordan Weissmann’s report in The Atlantic about the value that bosses add to the work of their employees.  We are all familiar with the bad boss syndrome, immortalized in television, film, blogs, and the numerous “Rate My Boss” sites that proliferate on the web.  But a research project that quantifies what good bosses do?  Leave it to economists to wrestle down the squishy side of performance to numbers!

According to Weissman, “the study examined data generated between 2006 and 2010 by more than 23,878 workers and 1,940 bosses employed at an anonymous, ‘large, service-oriented company.’  The workers were assigned to a single repetitive task that was carefully tracked and timed by computer. They also switched managers roughly once every four months. In short, it was the sort of work environment you might see at an in-house IT department or a customer service call center, and it allowed the researchers to see if there were any supervisors who consistently generated higher productivity among different batches of workers.”

Not only were the researchers able to demonstrate higher productivity linked to a particular boss, they also isolated how the boss contributed to it:  “either a boss might have been really good at motivating their team (i.e., they were a cheerleader, or maybe a drill sergeant) or they might have taught employees lasting skills (i.e., they were a coach).”

I am not surprised by the importance of teaching in the workplace, but I’ll point to the role of communication in good management and effective employee development.  Next time the economists roll out the study, I hope they will consider how communication figures into bosses’ success!