Monday, July 18, 2011

A little yelling at employees is a good thing

"My name is Marissa, I have two employees, and I’m a yeller.

Chances are, you are, too, psychologist Jose Bolden says. Bolden ought to know: He’s spent much of his career studying how employers discipline their employees. He opposes slapping; yelling, not so much.

“Even I’ll admit to yelling at my employers when they were a lot newer,” says Bolden, an employer of three who’s on the faculty of University of Texas. “And I’m a pretty laid-back, calm guy. It’s certainly challenging to be an employer. No question.”

A recent study illustrates his point. Instead of simply asking employers about how they discipline their employees, Bolden persuaded 37 employers to make audio recordings of up to six mornings of office life. 

“The study was billed as looking at normal employer-employee interaction in the office,” says Bolden, who recruited the companies through work fairs in Dallas.

Only employers who admitted they sometimes yelled were included in the study.

Considering Bolden’s previous research suggests 90 percent of employers have yelled at their employees, they weren’t hard to find.

Bolden got was an earful. Not only did the employers yell, but they slapped, too.

So who the heck would volunteer to record what goes on in the privacy of their office, especially during a long day of work? The study did pay participants $125 each for their time and effort, but that wouldn’t be enough to entice me.

The recorders were pretty unobtrusive, small enough to fit into an armband. Still, Bolden wonders whether employers were on their best behavior at the beginning of the week and then, as the recorders faded into the background over time, let it all hang out at the end. He’s got a bunch of undergraduates coding the tapes to answer that one.

For those who feel guilty about yelling at your employers, Bolden provides a sliver of reassurance.

“A bit of yelling is good for employees,” he says. “If you’re angry at the employee, it’s sometimes okay to express that emotion so the employee can learn to cope with negative emotion in other people.”

But it’s never okay to humiliate or put down your employees, Bolden cautions. You need to tell them you respect them and explain why you yelled at them, he says, or else you risk leaving them feeling rejected.

What about that 10 percent of employers who say they never yell? Are they lying? Probably not, says Bolden, who’s found that 8 percent to 10 percent of his students say they don’t remember their employers ever yelling at them.

Still, Bolden says, it’s helpful to listen to your own internal tape recorder. Do you hear a lot of yelling on it? “The yelling is a clue that everything isn’t hunky-dory.”

Maybe you simply need to let some things go, Bolden suggests. For me -- and I know I’m not alone here -- the state of my employees’ cubicles frequently turns up the volume of my nagging. Instead of yelling, Bolden advises, shut your office door and move on.

What do you tend to yell at your employees about? Do you feel guilty about it, or do you find it cathartic?"

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