It’s been a few years since the book and movie that made the fire-breathing Miranda Priestly come alive. Meryl Street made her show us just how terrible this type of employer can be in the 2006 film, “The Devil Wears Prada” and Lauren Weisberger in her 2003 book brought her to life originally. If you saw the movie, just think back to some of the more juicy scenes where Streep would literally tear the head off of the poor new hire played by Anne Hathaway.
How many bosses are there just like that out there in this world even today? I daresay more than we want to admit to and literally more than they themselves realize. And do they realize what they are doing to the people who work for and with them? To their work lives? To their personal lives? To their producitivty and that of their firm? Again, I doubt it and probably in most cases, I doubt they care. A recent article in “The Washington Post” brings this subject up again. Written by Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer, the article is “How To Completely, Utterly Destroy an Employee’s Work Life” and I have linked and included it below:
HOW TO COMPLETELY, UTTERLY DESTROY AN EMPLOYEE’S WORK LIFE
By Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer,
Recall your worst day at work, when events of the day left you frustrated, unmotivated by the job, and brimming with disdain for your boss and your organization. That day is probably unforgettable. But do you know exactlyhow your boss was able to make it so horrible for you? Our research provides insight into the precise levers you can use to re-create that sort of memorable experience for your own underlings.
Over the past 15 years, we have studied what makes people happy and engaged at work. In discovering the answer, we also learned a lot about misery at work. Our research method was pretty straightforward. We collected confidential electronic diaries from 238 professionals in seven companies, each day for several months. All told, those diaries described nearly 12,000 days – how people felt, and the events that stood out in their minds. Systematically analyzing those diaries, we compared the events occurring on the best days with those on the worst.
What we discovered is that the key factor you can use to make employees miserable on the job is to simply keep them from making progress in meaningful work.
People want to make a valuable contribution, and feel great when they make progress toward doing so. Knowing this progress principle is the first step to knowing how to destroy an employee’s work life. Many leaders, from team managers to CEOs, are already surprisingly expert at smothering employee engagement. In fact, on one-third of those 12,000 days, the person writing the diary was either unhappy at work, demotivated by the work, or both.
That’s pretty efficient work-life demolition, but it leaves room for improvement.
Step 1: Never allow pride of accomplishment. When we analyzed the events occurring on people’s very worst days at the office, one thing stood out: setbacks. Setbacks are any instances where employees feel stalled in their most important work or unable to make any meaningful contribution. So, at every turn, stymie employees’ desire to make a difference. One of the most effective examples we saw was a head of product development, who routinely moved people on and off projects like chess pieces in a game for which only he had the rules.
The next step follows organically from the first.
Step 2: Miss no opportunity to block progress on employees’ projects. Every day, you’ll see dozens of ways to inhibit substantial forward movement on your subordinates’ most important efforts. Goal-setting is a great place to start. Give conflicting goals, change them as frequently as possible, and allow people no autonomy in meeting them. If you get this formula just right, the destructive effects on motivation and performance can be truly dramatic.
Step 3: Give yourself some credit. You’re probably already doing many of these things, and don’t even realize it. That’s okay. In fact, unawareness is one of the trademarks of managers who are most effective at destroying employees’ work lives. As far as we could tell from talking with them or reading their own diaries, they generally thought their employees were doing just fine – or that “bad morale” was due to the employees’ unfortunate personalities or poor work ethics. Rarely did they give themselves credit for how much their own words and actions made it impossible for people to get a sense of accomplishment. You may be better at this than you think!
Step 4: Kill the messengers. Finally, if you do get wind of problems in the trenches, deny, deny, deny. And if possible, strike back. Here’s a great example from our research. In an open Q&A with one company’s chief operating officer, an employee asked about the morale problem and got this answer: “There is no morale problem in this company. And, for anybody who thinks there is, we have a nice big bus waiting outside to take you wherever you want to look for work.”
A good quote to keep in your back pocket.
Teresa Amabile is a professor and director of research at Harvard Business School. Steven Kramer is a developmental psychologist and researcher. They are coauthors of The Progress Principle.
© The Washington Post Company
Amabile and Kramer have done a great job in taking a vast amount of data and summarizing it for the purposes of their study. They attempt to show what de-motivates the average worker in regard to the precise things that trigger destructive attitudes from their bosses. Their four points may seem over-simplified, but they are not. They are just getting to the bottom line of the things you and I dislike and always will hate about employers who treat us in a less than acceptable manner and destroy our lifes. Thus, making us that much less productive, which is the whole idea of this blog. So if you’re an employer, and you haven’t seen this movie, I suggest you see it. Then read Amabile and Kramer’s book and think about what kind of company you want, one in which you are feared and loathed or one in which you are respected.