Aggressive managers get ahead faster

2003

Aggressive managers who blame others when things go wrong are more likely to get promoted than managers who feel guilty and accept responsibility for failure – or so many employees believe.

Research conducted in the Faculty of Industrial Engineering and Management at the Technion Institute in Israel also found that it pays more for managers to get angry than for ordinary employees, and it pays more for men to get angry than women.

“In order to succeed in a company that measures people by results, it is not enough just to be good,” says researcher Noga Prat, who decided to move from being a software development manger into human resources.

“In the event of failure, if you take responsibility upon yourself, there is a chance that you will be identified with this failure and this will impede your advancement. On the other hand, if you get angry, and someone doesn’t know the details, there is a chance that you can throw the blame on others and justify yourself,” she explains.

In the research, 240 students and 120 employees in high-tech companies received a questionnaire describing a situation in which two employees in an advertising agency are equally responsible for the loss of a client. One becomes angry and lays the blame on the other. In contrast, the other feels responsible and takes the blame.

If the angry employee was male and already a manager, 72 per cent of the students questioned thought that he would get promoted. If he was a more junior employee, 63 per cent of the students thought that his attitude would help him move up into management.

The high-tech employees’ answers provided the opposite picture – 72 per cent thought that the angry employee would be promoted to a management position while only 64 per cent thought that the angry manager would advance.

There was little difference if the angry manager was a woman; 67 per cent still believed that she would be promoted. But if the more junior employee was female, only 54 per cent thought that she would get promoted.

“It is more worthwhile for the male employee to get angry than for the female employee,” explaines Noga Prat. “For female employees, it is not worth it to express anger, as opposed to women managers for whom it is worth it. When women reach management positions they are perceived of as “men” from the point of view of the management traits expected of them, and anger apparently is one of those traits.”

When they were asked what they see happening to bullying bosses in their real-life workplaces, 44 per cent of the high-tech employees said that they tended to get promotion. But only 25 per cent said that acting aggressively benefits more junior employees.

Earlier this month, Finnish researchers demonstrated a link between the way employees were treated by managers and their health. Workers who were treated unjustly had a 41 per cent higher risk of sickness absence than those treated well.