Why Australia needs better bosses

Australia's flagging productivity can be attributed in part to the poor relationship employees have with supervisors. The solution to this lies in educating bosses on fostering better relationships with staff.

Recently ranked as the second worst of 51 countries when it comes to productivity, what will it take for Australian companies to step up and take responsibility?

Ernst & Young’s latest Australian Productivity Pulse points out that many of the barriers to productivity are squarely within the grasp of employers, noting that while there may not be a silver bullet for improving productivity, employers have considerable ammunition at their disposal.

National Australia Bank boss Cameron Clyne seems to agree. Recently calling for a broader debate on the nation's flagging productivity, Clyne says more changes to the industrial relations system are not the solution. So where to begin?

Australian bosses need to consider employees

Despite the millions of dollars poured into 'leadership training' each year by Australian organizations, three out of every four employees report their boss is the most stressful part of their job, with most indicating they’d prefer a new boss over a pay rise when it comes to improving their satisfaction at work.

The problem is not only extreme cases of bosses who bully employees. It turns out that even basic incivility or rudeness is enough to transform a model employee into a "negative and unproductive” nightmare. The costs quickly add up, with employees deliberately slowing down, making errors on purpose, avoiding their bosses and taking unnecessary sick leave.

In America, it is estimated that poor relationships with supervisors cost the economy $360 billion in lost productivity each year. In Australia, more than sixty percent of employees report they’d be more productive if they had a better relationship with their boss.

The case for building better bosses

It is easy to dismiss these claims as the rants of overly sensitive employees. Harder to ignore however, are the bottom line business effects that come from taking the time to treat your employees with dignity and respect. This has ignited a new movement for 'better bosses' as part of National Boss Day.

Firstly, there are the economic gains businesses enjoy from considerate bosses. For example, when the Gallup Research Organization asked ten million employees around the world if "their supervisor, or someone at work, seemed to care about them as a person,” those who agreed were found to be more productive, contributed more to profits, and were significantly more likely to stay with their company long-term.

Secondly, there are the economic losses businesses endure from negative bosses. When one organization decided to deduct from a boss’ salary the financial costs – legal fees, recruitment fees and training fees – incurred by his poor behaviour, the total in one year added up to nearly $160,000. This figure does not include the lost productivity costs associated with his behaviour. It would have been cheaper to fire him.

Finally, there are the human costs. It takes most employees 22 months to free themselves from a difficult relationship with their boss. During this time, the constant stress and negativity undermines their performance, damages their health, destroys their relationships and leaves them feeling depressed and anxious. Do we really want to do this to another human being?

How Australian bosses can improve

My latest book '5 Reasons To Tell Your Boss To Go F**k Themselves - How Positive Psychology Can Help You Get What You Want' provides some new insights.

Designed to empower employees to create win-win outcomes for themselves, their bosses and their organizations, there is plenty to be gained from supervisors viewing the workplace through the eyes of their unhappiest employees.

Among them are five proven, practical approaches from positive psychology that any boss can try:

– Boost positivity: simple interventions like starting meetings with "What’s going well?” and taking the time to personally thank people for their efforts can shift the mood of a team so they work harder, stay longer, maintain their composure in a crisis and take better care of the organization.

– Engage strengths: employees who have the opportunity to use their strengths – the things they enjoy and are good at – are six times as likely to be engaged in their jobs and more than three times as likely to report having an excellent quality of life.

– Cultivate good relationships: investing in casual social opportunities during office hours helps people to feel safer within a team, lowering absenteeism and turnover rates and increasing employee motivation and engagement.

– Encourage a sense of purpose: providing role clarity and a sense of meaning for employees enables them to perform with greater dedication and better results.

– Recognise accomplishments: giving specific, deliberate and immediate recognition around big and small accomplishments can be even more motivating than money.

Measuring the performance of Australian bosses

Given the established body of evidence that the bond between supervisor and employee is the prime predictor of daily productivity, it is astounding that the health of this relationship is a measure featured on so few organizational scorecards. It is understandable that bosses may not favour such a move, but where is the governance from our boards?

If we are serious about tackling productivity in our organizations, then employees should be offered an anonymous means of rating their bosses. Furthermore, to ensure accountability the results should be internally published in a leadership league table tied to eligibility for promotion or bonuses.

Sound extreme?

In businesses where a higher proportion of employees report their immediate bosses care about them, employee satisfaction, retention, and productivity are higher. So is profitability. Surely these are business outcomes that any organization would hope to achieve. So what are we waiting for?


Michelle McQuaid is a positive psychology expert and author of 5 Reasons to Tell Your Boss to Go F**k Themselves.

Learn more about Michelle at www.michellemcquaid.com.

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