Want Higher Productivity? Set an Example; Your Math Teacher is a Dolt. Does It Matter?; No Shortage of Bad Bosses

July 7, 2010
Workers were positively influenced by the performance of colleagues who completed tasks more efficiently. A running argument in academic circles centers on whether the quality of teaching has an impact on students

Want Higher Productivity? Set an Example

USAFA student study, tinyurl.com/2474y2g

University of Alberta, tinyurl.com/39u5enw

Australian School of Business bad boss research, tinyurl.com/2vjp4jg

Does your colleague in the next cube seem to be working harder than you? If so, chances are his or her behavior is having an impact on your own.

So says University of Alberta management-science researcher Ken Schultz, who recently analyzed production-line data from a General Motors plant. He noticed that workers were positively influenced by the performance of colleagues who completed tasks more efficiently. He thinks the reason for the influence stems from most people’s idea of fairness and of what constitutes “a good day’s work.”

Schultz thinks his conclusions about assembly-line workers apply equally well to all kinds of work and sports teams. But if you like private work quarters, you probably won’t like another of Schultz’s ideas. He says the design of the workspace is important in influencing productivity. The key is to arrange the area so workers face each other when performing their tasks. The ability to observe and monitor the speed of coworkers is the necessary catalyst for the behavioral change, he claims.

At the GM plant, Schultz found that the way to boost productivity in a lower-than-average performing line was to introduce a higher-performing worker. However, he notes, simply switching people on teams will not produce the desired effect. In a plant, as in sports, knowing which players to change provides the most benefit. “You’d look for the person who’s a good performer but doesn’t react to others around him; that’s the person you want to move to the low-level team,” Schultz says, because “there’s a good chance he’s going to be a person who has proven to be a leader.

Your math teacher is a dolt. Does it matter?
There has been a running argument in academic circles about whether the quality of teaching has an impact on student performance in class and in follow-on courses. The problem with settling the question has been in conducting a test free of such mitigating influences as when students can pick their teacher. Researchers from UC Davis and the U. S. Air Force Academy recently took a stab at the question by evaluating Academy students who were randomly assigned to professors. Faculty members there all teach the same course using an identical syllabus and give the same exams during a common testing period. USAFA students are also randomly assigned to numerous follow-on courses.

Surprisingly, researchers found that professors who excel at promoting student achievement in the class they teach will, on average, harm the subsequent performance of their students in more advanced classes. And a professor’s academic rank, teaching experience, and degree status negatively correlated with student performance in the class they taught, but positively correlated with performance in follow-on courses. Students of less-experienced instructors who did not possess a Ph.D. performed significantly better in the contemporaneous course, but worse in follow-on related courses.

The reason for this behavior? Well, the researchers aren’t entirely sure why. They speculate that one potential explanation is that less-experienced professors may teach more strictly to the regimented curriculum being tested, while the more-experienced professors broaden the curriculum and produce students with a deeper understanding of the material.

No shortage of bad bosses
There’s an increasing interest in the high price incurred when bosses behave badly. Researchers are looking at the effects on employees who get abused by leaders who are themselves under pressure.

“Abuse is hostile, negative comments — calling people, or their work, stupid. It’s when people feel that they have been lied to or that the supervisor has talked badly about them behind their back, or been angry and rude to them,” says University of New South Wales, Australian School of Business lecturer Alannah Rafferty. “Surprisingly, people with high self-esteem are the worst affected because they’re used to being treated well and receiving positive comments. It is hard for their egos when they are treated badly.”

An Australian School of Business research team is now exploring the high cost of bad bosses and aims to devise a strategy to help workers deal with the phenomenon. ”There’s clear evidence that abusive supervision is harmful to employees, can undermine an organization and create lower job satisfaction and performance for staff — and it impacts their private lives,” says Australian School of Business researcher Simon Restubog.

A recent survey of 2,146 Australian employees showed that almost half had witnessed their coworkers being mistreated. Coworkers who have observed hostile treatment reported higher levels of psychological distress.

Edited by Leland Teschler

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