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Are You a Nice Boss? A Total Jerk? It Doesn't Matter Either Way.

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on May 12, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

You want to be the best boss you can be. Not only do you give your support staff a good wage and decent perks, you remember their birthdays, you promote an open office environment, you try not to make unreasonable demands.

Well guess what? It doesn't matter. According to a recent study, you can bring everyone flowers on their birthday or scream and shout at them instead and it won't make much of a difference -- at least in terms of employee retention.

Bosses Matter Less Than You Think

"Conventional wisdom says that people don't leave companies, they leave bad bosses," University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign professors write in the Harvard Business Review. Ravi Gajendran and Deepak Somava studied more than 700 employees at a large IT firm and found that the opposite was true. "Our research -- and growing evidence from other leadership studies -- finds that employees leave both good and bad bosses at almost comparable rates."

Why's that? Wouldn't an incompetent, unpleasant, or overly demanding boss drive workers away? Apparently not. According to Gajendran and Somava:

Supportive managers empower employees to take on challenging assignments with greater responsibilities, which sets employees up to be strong external job candidates. So employees quit for better opportunities elsewhere -- better pay, more responsibility, and so on.

Employees with poor managers leave at a similar rate, but perhaps they're just fleeing a bad boss, rather than finding greener pastures.

What Should You Do?

So, what's the take away? Vivia Chen writes in her Careerist column at the American Lawyer that the study may be the permission you need to "get back in touch with your inner Donald."

That means you can skip the sensitivity training, the anger management sessions and those damn yoga poses. That's right, you can go back to yelling, screaming, humiliating and brutalizing your underlings.

Don't do that. As both Chen and the researchers note, it's better to have your employees leave on good terms than bad ones. So called "happy quitters" retain goodwill towards your firm and can become "sources of valuable information, recommendations, and business opportunities later on," according to Gajendran and Somava.

So be a good boss. You'll still lose employees, but the good karma you gain will balance things out in the end.

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