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Research Says: To Improve Productivity, Get a New Boss

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An old joke explains, “the secret to financial success is choosing the right parents.” Scientists explain that picking the right boss is critical to employee productivity.

This date comes from a paper called The Value of Bosses, published by the National Bureau of Economic Research. The authors write:

Replacing a boss who is in the lower 10% of boss quality with one who is in the upper 10% of boss quality increases a team’s total output by about the same amount as would adding one worker to a nine member team…

In plain English, if a boss supervises ten people and does so poorly, they cancel out the efforts of one of their workers!

Employee Productivity and Bosses

© Flickr user fairfaxcounty

This result is probably not surprising to those of us who have had a terrible manager. If we report to someone who is disorganized, unreasonable, or lacks professionalism, we know it’s difficult to be productive.

Likewise, our personal productivity as an employee clearly increases if we work for a great boss. They inspire us to be creative, innovative, and dedicated. A fantastic manager is an amazing leader. Under their direction, employee productivity increases.

However, the authors of the study also write something which may be surprising:

The primary means by which bosses matter is through teaching; motivating is less important.

It seems like a bad boss is demotivating and a good boss is motivating. However, from what we know about the science of motivation is that we are actually inspired more by meaning novelty and a sense of purpose than we are by typical “motivation techniques” like cash incentives or threats.

Instead, what great bosses do is teach. They mentor. They explain how to complete tasks, outline best practices, and learn from their employee-students.

In fact, employee training increases productivity and morale. So a great boss (a great teacher) not only makes it easier for you to get things done, but makes the environment one that is more pleasant and more meaningful.

If you’re a supervisor, work to be a teacher and a mentor. Make space for your employees to explore and take risks. And you’re an employee, keep an eye on the person you’re reporting to. And if you think “my boss is a psychopath, now may be the time to start looking for work elsewhere.

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Robby Slaughter
Robby Slaughter is a workflow and productivity expert. He is a nationally known speaker on topics related to personal productivity, corporate efficiency and employee engagement. Robby is the founder of AccelaWork, a company which provides speakers and consultants to a wide variety of organizations, including Fortune 500 companies, regional non-profits, small businesses and individual entrepreneurs. Robby has written numerous articles for national magazines and has over one hundred published pieces. He is also the author of several books, including Failure: The Secret to Success. He has also been interviewed by international news outlets including the Wall Street Journal. Robby’s newest book is The Battle For Your Email Inbox.
Robby Slaughter


Troublemaker and productivity/workflow expert. Slightly more complex than 140 characters will permit.
What would happen if instead of repeating the claim, we all took 30s to search the web and get more context or even see if it’s true? - 8 hours ago
Robby Slaughter
Robby Slaughter

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