This is the worst thing you can focus on when managing a team

Supervisors and managers who emphasize profit over their employees’ wellbeing and work-life balance usually believe they are putting the company’s best interests first. In reality, a managerial mindset like this will only alienate employees, encourage careless work, and ultimately harm the company’s bottom line. 

Instead, according to a recent study conducted at Baylor University, managers should take a more nuanced, interpersonal approach that lets their employees know they aren’t just numbers on a spreadsheet.

The classic office boss is hardly a sympathetic figure. When you’re just starting out in an entry-level position, it can feel like your manager has a pretty easy job. Bigger office, better pay, more day-to-day freedom; life as a supervisor can seem like a breeze when viewed from afar. However, by the time many actually ascend to managerial positions they realize it can be lonely at the top, and often times quite stressful. 

With great office power also comes great responsibility, as well as tough questions from CEOs and investors when the company hits a particularly poor quarter. On top of all that, leading a team of other people, or even an entire office, is a challenge that few can truly understand until they themselves are faced with such a task. 

So while it’s understandable why so many managers fall back on more abrasive supervisory techniques, tactics that focus solely on dollars and cents rarely ever lead to positive financial outcomes or a happy working environment.

“Supervisors who focus only on profits to the exclusion of caring about other important outcomes, such as employee well-being or environmental or ethical concerns, turn out to be detrimental to employees,” comments lead researcher Matthew Quade, Ph.D., assistant professor of management at Baylor University’s Hankamer School of Business, in a press release. “This results in relationships that are marked by distrust, dissatisfaction and lack of affection for the supervisor. And ultimately, that leads to employees who are less likely to complete tasks at a high level and less likely to go above and beyond the call of duty.”

A total of 866 people were surveyed for the study. Half of that group were managers, while the other half were their respective employees. As far as professional fields, participants came from a wide variety of industries including finance, sales, legal services, and health care.

The employees were asked to rate their managers’ “bottom line mentality” (BLM), and vice versa. Also, employees described their overall relationship with their manager.

More specifically, employees measured their supervisors’ BLM by indicating how strongly they agreed with statements like: “My supervisor treats the bottom line as more important than anything else” or “My supervisor cares more about profits than his/her employees’ well-being.”

Next, employees described their overall relationship with their boss by rating the accuracy of statements such as “I like my supervisor very much as a person” and “My relationship with my supervisor is composed of comparable exchanges of giving and taking.”

Meanwhile, supervisors rated their employees’ performance and BLM by scoring the validity of statements including: “This employee meets or exceeds his/her productivity requirements,” “This employee searches for ways to be more productive” and “This employee demonstrates a commitment to producing quality work.”

After collecting and analyzing all of the responses, the research team came to a number of interesting conclusions. First off, the results overwhelmingly indicated that managers who place an emphasis on profit above all else foster “low-quality relationships” with their employees. As a result, those employees don’t feel like their superior is a good leader. This leads to the employees largely phoning in their on-the-job performance and just not trying their hardest. 

The relationship between a manager and employee grows worse and worse when the manager’s BLM is high and the employee’s BLM is particularly low. That being said, even when both a supervisor and a worker have a high BLM, the worker will still feel unmotivated if their boss only focuses on profit. According to the study’s authors, that last finding is of particular interest because it runs contradictory to the largely held belief that if two people share common interests they will work well together.

“When supervisor and employee BLM is similarly high, our research demonstrates the negative effect on performance is only buffered, not mitigated – indicating no degree of supervisor BLM seems to be particularly beneficial,” the study reads. “It seems even if employees maintain a BLM, they would prefer for their managers to focus on interpersonal aspects of the job that foster healthier social exchange relationships with their employees in addition to the bottom line.”

These findings naturally represent a bit of a conundrum for managers and companies. When it comes to business, the name of the game is profitability. All things considered, it’s rather ironic that not focusing on money seems to be the best way to improve employee performance and subsequently make more money. Human beings aren’t worker robots, though, and no one wants to go into the office each day and feel like nothing more than a cog in the wheel.

“Supervisors undoubtedly face heavy scrutiny for the performance levels of their employees, and as such they may tend to emphasize the need for employees to pursue bottom-line outcomes at the exclusion of other competing priorities, such as ethical practices, personal development or building social connections in the workplace,” the study concludes. “However, in doing so they may have to suffer the consequence of reduced employee respect, loyalty and even liking.”

The full study can be found here, published in Human Relations.