Research suggests that when people get along with their leader, they:
- Are more motivated;
- Perform better, and
- Are more likely to go the extra mile.
When they do not, bad things can happen.
However, viewing the boss-employee dynamic as purely positive or purely negative creates a false dichotomy; it is often mixed.
In three studies involving 952 working adults and undergraduate students, researchers found that employees who assessed their relationship with their supervisor as highly ambivalent performed worse in their jobs (according to the boss’s rating) than those who saw the relationship as more clearly positive or negative (Lee et al., 2017).
Although it seems surprising that people who dislike their boss perform better than people with an equivocal view, the finding is consistent with prior research on ambivalent relationships in social settings, which has shown that inconsistency increases stress and anxiety and can therefore affect the quality of work.
The researchers say that conflicted relationships between bosses and employees do not always lead to poor performance. However, empathy and advice from colleagues or the organisation can provide an effective counterweight.
The researchers suggest that leaders should try to encourage team members to support each other by creating an environment where employees feel safe:
- Being themselves; and
- Raising issues.
Lee, A., Thomas, G., Martin, R. & Guillaume, Y. (2017) Leader-Member Exchange (LMX) Ambivalence and Task Performance: The Cross-Domain Buffering Role of Social Support. Journal of Management. 45(5), pp.1927-1957. https://doi.org/10.1177/0149206317741190.
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