Productivity gains from niceness

I’ve long had a theory that psychological bullies in the workplace have a real productivity cost. And wandering the McKinsey site looking for something else, I found an article that suggests they do. The article seriously suggests that you calculate the “total cost of jerks” in your workplace – if you are thinking of hiring a star salesperson, who is seriously horrible to be around, think about the collatoral damage:

  • time spent cooling out victims of the jerk and calming them down
  • turnover costs of the people around them
  • impaired ability to attract the best and brightest
  • etc etc

I’ve certainly had my share of calming people down after bullying behaviour in meetings.  And it sure does reduce productivity. The victim, depending on their personality, spends some period of time either too angry or too upset to do good work. And the people around them spend time sympathising, rather than doing their own work.

David Maister (professional services guru) spends considerable time in his articles about managing professional services talking about how important it is that people you hire fit the culture. Most of the time he’s talking about more subtle things like sharing credit and knowledge. But the simpler approach creating a pleasant workplace makes an enormous difference, and tends to be underrated.

Note that a pleasant workplace doesn’t equate to no accountability. People can still be accountable for mistakes (when appropriate) without being bullied.

  3 comments for “Productivity gains from niceness

  1. November 5, 2007 at 5:47 am

    Hmm. Bullies. The one thing I won’t tolerate in our workplace is bullying. So difficult to get rid of, though. Then you have the even trickier category of ‘rockstars’ – workers who do the thing they do brilliantly but are so high maintenance…When they’re on, they’re worth it, but they let you know every day.

  2. November 5, 2007 at 1:44 pm

    Hmmm. That is interesting stuff. I wonder if it applies to bullying bosses?

  3. polar bear
    November 14, 2007 at 3:35 pm

    Bob Sutton has a series of blogs about the exact issue of bullies as well as a book. Check out at

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