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My Boss / My Self

Vivia Chen

January 24, 2013

Lecture_©Piotr Marcinski_Fotolia.comDo you ever feel like wringing the necks of underlings who seem incapable of following your directives? Okay, so who hasn't? But do you go one step further—like berating or humiliating them?

If you are becoming short-tempered, mean, or just nasty at work, don't blame it on your crushing workload. According to a study described in the Harvard Business Review Blog, you might be modeling your behavior after your own boss. 

It's the child abuse syndrome: Those who were abused end up as abusers themselves.

The study, which was conducted by Christine Porath of Georgetown University and Christine Pearson of the Thunderbird School of Global Management, finds that 60 percent of employees "blame their bad behavior on being overloaded at work." But the research indicates other dyanamics in play, writes the authors in HBR Blog:

In one of our surveys, 25 percent of managers who admitted to having behaved badly said they were uncivil because their leaders—their own role models—were rude. If employees see that those who have climbed the corporate ladder tolerate or embrace uncivil behavior, they’re likely to follow suit.

Of course, it doesn't take a management genius to figure out that having an office full of bullies and victims doesn't make for a productive workplace. The report finds:

- 48 percent of employees intentionally decreased their work effort.

- 47 percent intentionally decreased their work time.

- 80 percent lost work time worrying about their treatment.

- 66 percent said that their performance declined.

So what can businesses do to eradicate workplace incivility? The authors make a bunch of suggestions, including:

1. Promote a culture of respect and express your appreciation to employees. "Personal notes are particularly effective, especially if they emphasize being a role model, treating people well, and living the organization’s values."

2. Ask for feedback. "You may need a reality check from the people who work for you." The authors say some managers find it helpful to ask employees what they liked or didn't like about their managing styles.

3. Give lessons in civility. "We’re always amazed by how many managers and employees tell us that they don’t understand what it means to be civil." The authors suggest role playing to drive home the point.

4. Reward good behavior; penalize the bad.

All reasonable suggestions, but are lawyers apt to take any of these measures? I would have to be high to imagine partners writing personal "thank you" notes or asking underlings to assess them. As for rewarding or penalizing good/bad behavior: If you're talking about rainmakers at law firms, it's highly doubtful the word "penalty" will cross anyone's lips.

Am I overly cynical?  


Related posts: Three Tips for Handling a Bad BossYour Boss Is the Problem.


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"Am I overly cynical?"

No, you are not. You're spot on.

The partners with whom I work regularly say thank you and provide positive feedback, especially when an associate goes the extra mile and pulls a late night. Maybe it is not every single time (hey... they are busy and aren't always aware what an associate is up to), but whenever it comes to the attention of the partners (or senior associates), they recognize it is a sacrifice even if it does occur fairly regularly. I cannot imagine working long hours in any other environment. My department does not tolerate any screamers either... (even the rainmakers don't do it). Associates are better for it. As a point of reference I work in the corporate department of a large firm in a major market, so pressure is amble but civility reigns.

During the late 1980s, there was an immense difference in associate and counsel morale between two NYC firms where lawyers worked at least 2,400 hours. At one, there was a heartfelt thank you from the partner in charge of the work virtually every morning after a long night or all-nighter. At the other, it was back to the salt mines. Guess which firm's work product was (and is) viewed as extraordinary and which as solid and excellent?

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About The Careerist

The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: [email protected]

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