What makes an employee productive? Unproductive? Researchers conducted a comprehensive study of 238 employees, who kept track of how each day went.
“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,” researchers Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer later wrote.
Based on those diaries, Amabile and Kramer came up with a list of surefire ways to destroy an employee’s day:
1. Don’t allow pride of accomplishment. “When we analyzed the events occurring on people’s very worst days at the office, one thing stood out: setbacks,” say the researchers.
“Setbacks” are when employees feel blocked from doing their most important work. For example, one manager in product development had a habit of unpredictably moving people on and off projects.
2. Block progress on employees’ projects. A leader who gives people conflicting goals, regularly changes them, or gives them no power to achieve their goals is inhibiting forward movement.
3. Bask in unawareness. Amabile and Kramer say that the most morale-depleting managers were unaware of their effect. “They generally thought their employees were doing just fine—or that ‘bad morale’ was due to the employees’ unfortunate personalities or poor work ethics.”
4. Kill the messengers. The researchers gave this example: An employee was given the opportunity for some Q&A with the company’s chief operating officer. The employee asked about the morale problem. The COO responded, “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.”
— Adapted from “How to completely, utterly destroy an employee’s work life,” Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer, The Washington Post.
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