Why Do You Hide From Your Boss?

HidingatworkAccording to researcher Robert Hogan, 75% of working adults today say the most stressful, most dreaded interactions they have at work is with their immediate boss.

Stress-inducing bosses have even been linked to increases in heart desease related illnesses. Studies show that the correlation of bad bosses and heart trauma seem to occur together, just like death and taxes.

As a result these same professionals avoid dealing with their boss by hiding, often in plain sight. Hiding in their email, hiding in meetings, phone calls, commutes, and projects that “demand” their attention.

The quest toward greater transparency has spawned open workspaces, and naked communication practices which approach surveillance levels. Indeed, the 7th Principle of the Toyota Way is “use visual control so no problems are hidden.” All in the pursuit of “visibility.” Many bosses benignly believe that regular oversight will elevate performance, drive healthy competition, and allow them to tweak processes by watching workers from a higher vantage point. As if by studying worker activity they could gently guide the team activity in the right direction of higher efficiency, greater collaboration and productivity.

Yet Harvard Professor Ethan Bernstein discovered almost the opposite. In a series of studies he found that the greater the oversight, the lower the productivity and worker moral. He dubbed this phenomenon The Transparency Paradox. What he discovered is that even modest levels of privacy for small groups of workers significantly increased productivity and engagement in their work.

Organizational transparency can, of course, have very positive effects. It can allow increased awareness into the capabilities of other teams, and allow team members to more easily build cross-functional collaboration. That’s clearly a good thing. Transparency in surfacing product or service issues can certainly more quickly isolate problems for faster correction. Transparency can also help ensure that localized problems don’t linger. As Justice Louis Brandeis famously said “Sunlight is the best disinfectant.”

However in Professor Bernstein’s studies he found that transparency when applied as constant worker observation has a negative effect. Constant observation by bosses was not only a performance distraction, but also severely curtailed process experimentation or procedure deviance. In other words, when you are constantly monitored and scrutinized in your every action, you are far less likely to try something new, experiment, and come up with a new way of working.

So answer to “Why do you hide from your boss?” is you know that by building autonomy into your work life you will perform better, innovate faster, and be happier in your work.

And just for fun…