Unfortunately, there are far too many ways for managers to make employees miserable.
So says researchers Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer — she’s a Harvard business professor, he’s a psychologist — who have been studying workplace dynamics for the past 15 years.
They outline their findings in a recent book, The Progress Principle.
Among the things they commonly found in the workplace is this four-step plan that’s sure to suck all the joy out of people’s work lives.
Master Disaster Plan
1. Prevent all possible feeling of accomplishment. This objective can be achieved through discouraging workers’ attempts to perform over and above expectations, pooh-poohing innovative suggestions or simply shifting workers’ duties before any actual progress is made.
“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,” Amabile and Kramer wrote.
2. Dig potholes in the road to progress. Closely aligned with Step One, this tactic is designed to further discourage enthusiasm and commitment on the part of employees. Kramer and Amabile suggest managers set up conflicting goals, change them as often as possible, and make sure nobody has the autonomy to actually meet an objective.
“If you get this formula just right, the destructive effects on motivation and performance can be truly dramatic,” they wrote.
3. Stay clueless. The researchers found that “unawareness” was one of the strongest traits in managers who successfully made employees’ lives miserable. Either they had no clue their people were unhappy and unmotivated, or they figured low morale was due to employees’ negative attitudes or weak work ethic.
4. Develop deafness. Denial is the first line of defense bad managers use when they get word of morale problems or a lack of engagement. Here’s a gem from Amabile and Kramer’s research, from an unidentified COO:
“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.”