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If You're Going To Be A Jerk At Work, Be A Consistent Jerk

Would you prefer a boss who is always unfair, or is unfair only some of the time? A new Michigan State University study concludes that employees would prefer the boss who is...consistently unfair? Hey, at least we know what we're getting!

MSU researchers divided 160 college students into three groups to perform a stock-pricing task. The first group was always treated fairly. The second group was always treated unfairly. The third group, meanwhile, experienced erratic, unpredictable treatment that could be fair one minute and unfair the next.

Bottom line: if we're going to be subjected to unfair treatment at work, then we want managers who are consistently unfair across the board! If our boss is a jerk, we'd prefer that he or she double down on it and be a jerk all the time instead of only some of the time.

From the official MSU press release:

"Our findings essentially show that employees are better off if their boss is a consistent jerk rather than being a loose cannon who's fair at times and unfair at other times," said Fadel Matta, lead author of the study and a researcher in MSU's Broad College of Business. "We found that inconsistent treatment is much more stressful than being treated poorly all the time."

In fact, a separate experiment including actual employees discovered those with capricious bosses felt more stressed out, had a higher level of dissatisfaction with their jobs, and suffered greater emotional exhaustion than employees who were treated unfairly all the time.

What can explain such a finding? Well, employees with jerky, unfair bosses already know how the boss will likely react, which helps them navigate any situation better -- and with lower overall stress levels.

So there you have it, managers! Consistency is key. If you're going to be unfair, then be unfair all the time to everyone. If you're going to be fair, then be fair all the time to everyone. Just don't do both, some of the time, and at different times of day, with different employees. In the meantime, I'll let you get back to wondering what your own boss is thinking.


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