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 exactly how your boss was able to make it so horrible for you?
HBS did some research that provides insight into the precise levers you can use to re-create that sort of memorable experience for your own team members. They did surveys that detailed over 12000 days of work-day incidents, and analysed how people felt and the incidents that stood out in their minds.
When the HBS 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, if you want to destroy someone at work, at every turn, kill off employees’ desire to make a difference. One of the most effective examples they 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, says HBS.
Step 3: Give yourself some credit.
You’re probably already doing many of these things, and don’t even realise it. In fact, unawareness is one of the trademarks of managers who are most effective at destroying employees’ work lives. As far as HBS 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, say HBS. And if possible, strike back. Here’s a great example from their 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 end this disturbing, worrying, damaging and utterly compelling report.
Head of Training
Originally published: 27 June, 2012