Highlights - May 2016

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Is your boss always a jerk? Even if the answer is “yes,” you may still be better off than those workers whose supervisor is courteous one moment and rude the next, according to research recently published in the Academy of Management Journal.

The new research, by a team of business scholars at Michigan State University, suggests employees whose superior is consistently unfair are actually less stressed and more satisfied with their job than employees with an erratic boss.

The study of ninety-five employers represented a host of industries monitored for stress.

The findings show that employees are better off if their boss is a consistent jerk rather than being a loose cannon who’s fair at times and unfair at other times. The researchers found that inconsistent treatment is much more stressful than being treated poorly all the time.

In the lab experiment, about 160 college students were split into two rooms and given a stock-pricing task. The students in each room were told the students in the other room would act as their supervisor. However, the feedback the students received was actually sent from the researchers.

A third of the students were always treated fairly, a third were always treated unfairly and a third received erratic treatment that bounced back and forth between fair and unfair. Examples of unfair statements included “You should be ashamed of your efforts on that last round” and “It sucks to work with an unmotivated person.”

The researchers monitored participants’ heart rates — a common indicator of stress — and found that those who were treated inconsistently experienced more stress than those who were treated unfairly all the time.

The findings were replicated in a field study in which the researchers surveyed workers and their bosses daily over a three-week period. Participants worked in industries ranging from retail to healthcare to technology. According to this study, employees with fickle bosses were more prone to stress, job dissatisfaction and emotional exhaustion than workers who were treated poorly all the time.

As expected, the best outcomes occurred when supervisors were consistently fair. However, if supervisors are going to be unfair, the results suggest that they...

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