Is Everyday Management a Social Threat to Employees?

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There’s a neat article by Reuters discussing how workers’ brains and management practices often work at cross-purposes. They cite, among others, Charles Jacobs, author of the book “Management Rewired,” recently reviewed here. An excerpt of the Reuters piece:

“One of the things organizations need to do is respect the deeply social nature of the brain. People are not rational, they are social,” David Rock, author of “Your Brain at Work” (HarperBusiness), told Reuters in an interview. “The social brain is such that we are really driven to increase social rewards, and we are really driven to minimize social threats.”

Rock, the founder of a company that applies the insights of brain science to leadership coaching, lists five areas in which our brain’s threat mechanisms are easily triggered at work: status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness and fairness.

When we feel threatened in any of these spheres — a superior displays power over us, rumors circulate about the future of our job, our work is micro-managed, we are excluded from colleagues’ conversations, or our work is unjustly overlooked — our brains focus our attention on the threat.

Jacobs, in his book, writes about the deeply illogical outcomes of giving and receiving feedback: oftentimes, rewards often undermine continuing what we are doing well, while negative feedback reinforces the undesirable behavior. Writes Jacobs: “A landmark study at General Electric found that the company’s performance appraisal system not only didn’t work, it produced results that were virtually the opposite of what was intended…. GE found that a manager’s praise had no effect on performance one way or the other, while the areas that a manager criticized showed the least improvement.”

What are your experiences with performance reviews, management encounters, etc.? Have they felt like threats to you?

(Hat tip to Felix Salmon)

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