New Study Sheds Light on What Employees Want

If you’re a boss and you’re trying to delve into what it is your employees really want, you may want to pay attention to the interesting results of a newly released study entitled “Boss Competence and Worker Well-Being.” (Benjamin Artz, October 2014)

Here’s what the abstract says about the purpose and results of this study:

“Nearly all workers have a supervisor or “boss.” Yet there is almost no published research by economists into how bosses affect the quality of employees’ lives. This study offers some of the first formal evidence. First it is shown that a boss’ technical competence is the single strongest predictor of a worker’s well-being. Second, we examine equivalent instrumental-variable results. Third, we demonstrate longitudinally that even if a worker stays in the same job and workplace then a newly competent supervisor greatly improves the workers well-being. Finally. We discuss analytical possibilities, and consider necessary future research.”

bosses-and-employeesAll of this is basically a fancy, research-driven way to say that how competent you are impacts your employers more significantly than you may have ever realized.

The study really turns traditional talent management ideas on their head because those all center on how to improve the performance of the employees themselves, but perhaps the answer instead lies in the performance of the boss.

Survey participants that were used during the gathering of data were asked a variety of questions about their supervisor, particularly in terms of how well employees felt their supervisor knew how to do their job—questions like, “Could your supervisor do your job if you were away.”

Then, after looking at these questions directly related to boss competence, researchers went on to question study participants about their job satisfaction.

Oftentimes the leaders of a company tend to seal themselves off from their employees and the lower the employee tends to rank in a company in terms of position or experience, the more distanced they can feel from their bosses. The imagery we frequently evoke when thinking about bosses, CEOs, company leaders—anyone in a position of power in a company—is someone who’s not particularly accessible and in some cases, not willing to jump in and do the dirty work.

This research shows that can be a real problem for employees—the most productive, engaged and happiest employees are the ones who work in an environment where they feel like even though their boss may not be doing their job on a day-to-day basis, they’re willing and able to jump right in with the skills and the know-how to perform a range of tasks in the workplace if it’s necessary.

Not only do employees feel more satisfied when they feel like their boss or bosses can do the job they do each and every day, but they want to feel like their bosses are competent in their positions as well and that they “know their own job.”

The study authors point out that bosses, by the nature of their role in a company are “special,” since they are in charge and are required to make organizational decisions. The authors take the position that the boss of an organization shapes its very nature, and that may be much of the reason employees look to them for a high level of competency.

It’s an interesting concept—perhaps in order to get more competent and valuable employees, bosses need to focus on improving their own competency first through cross-training and other forms of continual development.

What do you think about this research? Do you think it holds the key to some interesting new approaches to talent management strategies? You can read the full report here, and let us know what you think.

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November 7, 2014   Updated :March 25, 2015      

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