Is Your Boss Doing You a Favor By Being a Jerk?

It might seem like a no-brainer that a kinder, gentler boss is preferable than one who is ready to ignite at any second for no apparent reason. But, surprisingly, according to a new Dutch study, some workers like it rough and respond better to mean bosses.

The study looked at undergraduate students' reactions when criticized after doing certain tasks. According to the researchers, certain personality types react more to a nasty supervisor than others. For example, those who showed a higher degree of engagement and desire to understand a situation, a trait called epistemic motivation, were more likely to up their performance to please an angry boss. These workers "generated more ideas, showed more originality and breadth and became more engaged after they received angry feedback."

Then there is the other kind of worker who prefers an easy touch. "What stupidity... my boss is the meanest man around, and the only thing that does is make me stress more, " says Bernice, a bookkeeper who, understandably, wants to remain anonymous. "When I see his name on my caller ID, my blood pressure goes up and I start to shake," she continues.

This reaction is typical for someone that has "low epistemic motivation." These workers are likely to shut down when confronted with anger.

As someone who oversees a large staff, Gina Licali, general manager of Total Woman Gym and Day Spa in Woodland Hills, Calif., says "Yes, there are differences in people's personalities, but I've found workers will never react positively unless you praise them. My motto is "Vent Up (to my superiors), and Praise Down (to my workers). I can't imagine any other way."

Of course, the researchers did say that these findings are limited by the kind of work environment present. According to study researcher, Gerben van Kleef, social psychologist at the University of Amsterdam, "It is unlikely to work in areas of stress, pressing deadlines or when there is noise in the background. But anger can work when people are in a relaxed environment because then the anger will tell them they basically need to work harder."

So, according to their theory, if Licali unloads on one of her masseuses, the client will get a better massage? Hmm...

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I do not agree with this Dutch study at all. It must have been done by people who are Fabian Socialist or Hitler type mentality. A good, responsible, educated worker doesn't need yelling or some 'silly wake up call' to get the job done on time. They know what they need to accomplish and responsible and accountable. As for employees who may need some push/incentive, give them some guidance or constructive criticism, a chance and see what they can do and they usually do better and will be grateful for their personal growth. For the misfits and lazy employees, just simply "fire them" after a few warnings. No need to yell or make people insane. It would be a dysfunctional office environment if management were that way.

October 07 2010 at 7:32 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

there is never an excuse for a boss to display anger at a work place -- unless the worker is always deliberately screwing up or a truly disastrous situation is caused by a worker that could have genuinely serious consequences. other than that, getting upset over fairly petty and trivial stuff is inexcusable. period. it's bad enough people have to work as it is - why make it worse by adding stress to the situation?

October 03 2010 at 5:13 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to mezl's comment

my attorney-boss used to excuse putting me through his anger hell by saying he simply had to, he had been yelled at by the judge/client/attorney, so he had to yell at me. it didn't make it go down easier, but he usually gave me a bonus after the bad ones. it started to feel weird after a while.

October 05 2010 at 2:24 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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