“Good Boss” Output Versus “Bad Boss” Output

Yes, it’s an n=1 story but I thought it was worth passing along:

Hi Dubner and Levitt,

I was interested by your recent podcast about the value of a good boss [based on this research] and wanted to share with you my own boss story.

I am a software engineer, and used to have a job writing software for scientists. I was hired by Good Boss, and thoroughly enjoyed my job. One year later, Good Boss accepted a position at another institution, and was replaced by Bad Boss. I worked for Bad Boss for another two-and-a-half years before resigning because I couldn’t stand it any longer.

Keep in mind the following occurred at the same institution, the same project, the same grant, the same team, the same office; the single difference was the boss.

In terms of productivity, during the single year I worked for Good Boss, I wrote four software applications and published two papers. During the subsequent two-and-a-half years working for Bad Boss, I wrote two applications and my only publication was a poster session. Software productivity dropped from 4 apps per year to 0.8, and publications dropped from 2 per year to 0.4, if you count a poster as a publication.

In terms of morale, I enjoyed working for Good Boss to the point where I would sometimes voluntarily dabble with work projects on the weekends because they were so interesting. It was the best job I’ve ever had. Working for Bad Boss was so unenjoyable that I eventually resigned a huge salary and great benefits in the middle of a recession—which turned out to be one of the best career moves I’ve made.

Keep up the interesting podcast!


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  1. Travis says:

    It would be interesting to examine this effect from the OTHER side, I.E. looking at business records, or departmental records year over year and trying to determine if the boss was good or bad. Once having the determination, then going to the employees to try and objectively say whether the boss was good or bad at that point in time.

    Other interesting information would be to what level a bad boss can pollute a company. Can a bad boss at a high level have a trickle down effect, hampering the productivity of workers 2 or 3 levels below them?

    And finally, is there really a way to have an objective measure of how bad a boss is?

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  2. n = 3 says:

    Need more evidence? Stanford professor Bob Sutton is the author of “Good Boss, Bad Boss” and “The No-A**hole Rule.” A recent interesting blog post is :

    11 Books Every Leader Should Read: Updated for 2012

    Daniel Pink interviews Bob Sutton about bosses

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