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Is your boss ruining your productivity at work?

You know the feeling of being around someone who can’t decide where to eat: your stomach is making obscene sounds, joining the chorus of their um’s and ah’s, and you know they’ll have to make a decision soon before your hunger morphs into frustration.

But imagine if that someone was actually your boss, and their lack of decisiveness was causing a lot more than a grumbling stomach.

If you’ve ever encountered an indecisive leader, you know how frustrating it can be working under them. But did you ever wonder whether your boss’s inefficiency directly impacted your productivity? According to Professor Alex Newman of Deakin University’s School of Business and Law, it has the potential to leave a lasting impact, not only on you and your colleagues, but on the organisation’s culture.

‘Managers who drag their feet when making decisions can have a detrimental impact on the behaviour of their staff,’ Prof. Newman explains.

How could you be impacted by a procrastinating boss?

In collaboration with researchers from Aston University, University of Exeter and University of London, Prof. Newman collected data from 290 employees in the US and 230 employees and their 23 supervisors in China, investigating the impact of manager procrastination on staff behaviour.

You might have guessed it, but one of the key findings of the study was that staff were left feeling frustrated when their managers spent too long mulling over a decision, or fulfilling tasks. A by-effect of this was that staff saw their leaders as being less effective, leading to more deviant behaviours at work.

Prof. Newman describes some of these deviant behaviours as, ‘Calling in sick when not ill, leaving work early without permission and making unauthorised use of work property.’

However, for those with strong manager–staff relationships, the negative effects of leader procrastination were minimised. It’s a strong reason why building positive relationships in the workplace is so important.

But how severe can the effects of a procrastinating boss be if your relationship isn’t so good?

'Managers who drag their feet when making decisions can have a detrimental impact on the behaviour of their staff.'

Professor Alexander Newman,
Faculty of Business and Law, Deakin University

How the effects trickle down to the organisation’s bottom line

According to Prof. Newman, there’s a lot at risk if the perfect storm hits: manager procrastination and negative manager–staff relationships.

‘I think deviant behaviours result in a negative organisational culture if many employees engage in such behaviours,’ Prof. Newman says. ‘It may also influence the job satisfaction of employees who witness such behaviours.’

On top of breeding a toxic work environment, he also explains, ‘The impact of these results could extend beyond workplace culture to an organisation’s bottom line, with research conducted in the UK and US showing work procrastination costs tens of billions of dollars in lost productivity per year.’

Do you need to be more understanding of an indecisive boss?

If you’ve been working under an inefficient leader for a while now, and your perspective on the job – and your boss – has become jaded, it might be hard to step back and question what might be going on in their head.

However, Prof. Newman advises you to ‘try and empathise with your leader and understand why they are acting as they are acting’.

‘Look into the reasons for the manager’s behaviour and suggest ways you could help in decision making,’ he says.

‘Seek out opportunities to engage with your leader on a more informal basis. For example, you could go with them for a coffee to initiate an informal chat.’

Are you in a position to offer feedback?

Prof. Newman says, ‘Organisations should consider providing training to help support improved relationships between managers and their staff, and encourage managers to engage in feedback, such as 360-degree feedback, to increase awareness of their own behaviour.’

However, if your organisation isn’t quite there yet, there are ways you can offer your boss this kind of feedback in a friendly way.

It may seem peculiar to take initiative in the feedback process as a ‘non-leader’, however there’s no need to shy away from it.

‘You can provide constructive feedback in a positive manner and try not to be over-critical,’ Prof. Newman says. ‘Instead of focusing on your boss’s behaviour, you might focus on providing suggestions for them to implement going forward.’

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Professor Alexander Newman
Professor Alexander Newman

Associate Dean, International, Faculty of Business and Law, Deakin University

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