Leadership

Hate your boss? Science says they may be missing this key trait

Gary Cole as Bill Lundbergh in "Office Space"
Image source: 20th Century Fox
Gary Cole as Bill Lundbergh in "Office Space"

There's nothing more infuriating than receiving orders from someone who has no idea what is involved in completing the task.

And there's science to back that up.

Research that focused on 35,000 randomly selected employees and workplaces in the U.S. and Britain, recently highlighted by the Harvard Business Review, shows that the largest positive influence on a typical worker's level of job satisfaction is whether bosses have the technical skill set to complete the work they ask their subordinates to do.

If bosses understand and can do what they are asking, employees are much happier.

"Employees are happiest when the boss knows what she or he is talking about." -Benjamin Artz, Amanda Goodall and Andrew J. Oswald, Research leads

The 2014 study was completed by Benjamin Artz, an associate professor at the University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh; Amanda Goodall, Ph.D., a senior lecturer in management at Cass Business School; and Andrew J. Oswald, a professor of economics and behavioral science at the University of Warwick.

For the research, the team measured boss competence in the following three categories:

  1. Whether the supervisor could, if necessary, do the employee's job.

  2. Whether the supervisor worked his or her way up inside the company.

  3. The supervisor's level of technical competence as assessed by a worker.

"Even we were surprised by the size of the measured effect," the authors remark in a piece penned for the Harvard Business Review. "For instance, among American workers, having a technically competent boss is considerably more important for employee job satisfaction than their salary (even when pay is really high)."

The importance of a boss' technical competence is higher for older employees than younger employees, the researchers note. That could be because older employees are likely to be more senior and have fewer bosses. Each individual boss therefore has more influence, the report says.

"The bottom line is that employees are happiest when the boss knows what she or he is talking about, and that drives performance," the authors write.

"The boss casts a very long shadow. Your job satisfaction is profoundly molded by your boss's competence; and your own team's job satisfaction levels depend on your competence."