Being a Boss Makes You Less Empathetic, Science Explains
NEW YORK ( MainStreet) About 20 million Americans loathe their jobs, according to the latest Gallup "State of the American Workplace" report. That means a fifth of the American workforce has that thousand-cubicle stare best summed up by a quote from Peter Gibbons from "Office Space": "So I was sitting in my cubicle today, and I realized, ever since I started working, every single day of my life has been worse than the day before it. So that means that every single day that you see me, that's on the worst day of my life." But being a good boss is easy, right? Just skip the patronizing conversations about TPS reports.
Not exactly. In fact, being a bad boss could be all in our headsliterally. A new study suggests that people in a higher position of power empathize less with people in a lower position. In the study, titled "Power Changes How the Brain Responds to Others," researchers found the powerful have a harder time mirroring other people's actions via the brain's mirror system, which indicates they are less likely to understand and empathize with others. If power can change how we think, it could also make it easier to ignore employees and repeat bad behavior without us even knowing it.
But just because a higher position might change how you perceive things, it doesn't mean you have to become a bad boss -- at least, not if you take the right precautions. Below, several experts weigh in on six ways to avoid becoming the office dreadnaught.
1. Forgetting the importance of empathy
Empathy is what can help earn the trust of your employees and let them know you care. If you find yourself getting so entangled in work you forget about your employees, don't panic sometimes all it takes to regain empathy is a reminder.
"When you remind people precisely about their dependence, they show [fewer] of the hallmarks of power," says Sukhvinder Obhi, senior corresponding author of the aforementioned study and neuroscientist at Wilifrid Laurier University in Ontario, Canada. Obhi says people are more likely to be empathetic when they know they're part of the team, not just the leader of it. By making your employees feel part of a group, it's likely that you will feel more connected as well.
2. Thinking it's all about the money
A good salary is an important reason for an employee to be happy, but it's not the only one. For example John Engel had ten employees underneath him at his own executive recruiter company. To motivate his workers, he offered generous incentives, like a trip to Japan if a team's quota was met, a high salary and performance bonuses. Still, his employees slumped at their desks, some even stopped showing up for work. He was close to firing when he stopped and asked them open-ended questions without commenting. Some employees said the incentives were "demotivating" and "led to unhealthy competition," recalled Engel. "What they were looking for from me was more information and direction - no amount of money would have motivated them."