How common are bad bosses? – Industrial Relations: A Journal of Economy and Society

Bosses play a fundamental role in workplaces. Yet almost nothing is known about an important and basic question in labour economics and industrial relations. Are the right people promoted to be supervisors, team leaders, and managers? The infamous Peter Principle claims that incompetent bosses are likely to be all around us, but is that true? This paper provides the first statistically representative international estimates — taking comparable data on 35 nations — of the extent to which employees have ‘bad bosses’. Using a natural measure, the paper calculates that approximately 13% of Europe’s workers have a bad boss. Such bosses are most common in large organizations, in organizations without employee-representation committees, in the transport sector, and where workers themselves have no supervisory responsibility. Lastly, the paper offers a practical finding as a potential aid to human-resource training and hiring. Contrary to media portrayals, bad bosses are rated least-bad on ‘respect for workers’ and worst on their ability to get the job done. Lack of competence, not lack of consideration, appears to be the key problem.

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