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Employees don't perform at their best when supervisors only focus on the ‘bottom line’

Researchers suggest that employees could view their supervisors differently when they have that mentality

Photo (c) Rowan Jordan - Getty Images
A new study conducted by researchers from Baylor University revealed some interesting information about how supervisors’ profit-driven mindsets could be affecting their employees’ performance at work. 

According to the researchers, employees don’t perform at their best -- and develop negative views of their supervisors -- when profits and reaching the “bottom line” are the only factors of importance. 

“Supervisors who focus only on profits to the exclusion of caring about other important outcomes, such as employee well-being or environmental or ethical concerns, turn out to be detrimental to employees,” said researcher Matthew Quade, PhD. “This results in relationships that are marked by distrust, dissatisfaction, and lack of affection for the supervisor. And ultimately, that leads to employees who are less likely to complete tasks at a high level and less likely to go above and beyond the call of duty.” 

Understanding employees’ mentality

The researchers surveyed nearly 900 people to get a better understanding of how employees’ performance can be affected by their supervisors’ attitudes; half of the participants were supervisors and the other half were their employees. 

Both supervisors and employees rated each other, with supervisors sharing their employees’ performance levels. Employees were asked to describe their supervisors’ attitudes about profits, as well as how comfortable they feel around them in a non-work related conversations. 

The surveys revealed a very interesting relationship between supervisors and their employees. Bosses who focused primarily on the bottom line were more likely to have employees who thought poorly of them, which led to worse job performance. Even when both employees and supervisors shared the belief that profits should be the primary focus, the outcome didn’t improve. 

“When supervisor and employee [bottom line mentality] is similarly high, our research demonstrates the negative effect on performance is only buffered, not mitigated -- indicating no degree of supervisor [bottom line mentality] seems to be particularly beneficial,” the researchers wrote. 

Ultimately, the researchers hope that supervisors understand the effects that a bottom line mentality can have on their employees so that they can work to incorporate other leadership styles into their business practices and ensure that everyone is working to their full potential.

“Supervisors undoubtedly face heavy scrutiny for the performance levels of their employees, and as such they may tend to emphasize the need for employees to pursue bottom-line outcomes at the exclusion of other competing priorities, such as ethical practices, personal development, or building social connections in the workplace,” the researchers wrote. “However, in doing so they may have to suffer the consequence of reduced employee respect, loyalty, and even liking.” 

Improving job performance

One recent study found that supervisors who prioritize healthy relationships with their employees ultimately see better job performance than those who don’t. 

Ultimately, the study revealed that employees do their best work when they feel that their bosses care about them and respect them, and their work can suffer when they don’t feel this way. 

“The findings imply that showing personal and familial support for employees is a critical part of the leader-follower relationship,” said researcher Shelley Dionne. “While the importance of establishing structure and setting expectations is important for leaders...help and guidance from the leader in developing social ties and support networks for a follower can be a powerful factor in their job performance.”

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