A Guide to Dysfunctional Management and the Evil Workplace
January 22nd, 2014 by William

The Law of the Hog

Thirty-two percent of U.S. workers are seriously considering changing jobs, according to a Gallup poll of nearly 30,000 workers in 17 countries, including 2,400 in the U.S. That’s up from 23 percent in 2005. Another 21 percent view their company unfavorably and scored near the bottom when it comes to loyalty, commitment and motivation. And ignoring a boss’s request, 25 percent took that route. The real telling statistic was that those willing to punish the boss–either actively or passively–were 59 percent. That’s an interesting statistic: ~60% of workers are so unhappy with their boss that they’re considering retaliation.

In their 2002 book, The Law of the Hog – How the World’s Best Leaders Solve Tough People Problems, authors Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Al Switzler and Ron McMillan, tell an interesting story about employee retaliation against a bad boss. “A lumber processing plant brought in some management consultants from Stanford University to measure the impact of an ongoing leadership-training program. While interviewing a group of hourly employees of the plant, one consultant asked, “What happens when you don’t get along with your supervisor?” As one they immediately blurted: ‘The hog!’

“The consultants had been introduced to ‘the hog’ earlier that day. In the corner of the mill sat a shack where scraps were ground into sawdust by a monstrous set of saw blades. This was the hog. Employees mentioned ‘the hog’ as their cure to poor supervision. ‘We don’t throw the boss into the hog,’ someone went on to explain. ‘We throw good plywood into the hog. That way we kill his productivity numbers and get him in trouble.’ Revenge, sabotage, payback—were the name of the game. If a boss did something employees didn’t like, they got even by ‘feeding the hog.’ This then is ‘The Law of the Hog.’ Meaning: When employees dislike how they’ve been treated, expect a drop in productivity.”

Admittedly the story is bit extreme–not everybody seeks such dramatic revenge. In fact, most people don’t–that’s a good thing. The most common form of feeding the hog takes place when people spend their time thinking about how they were treated rather than finding ways to be more effective, efficient, proactive, or whatever the latest management wishful thinking might dictate of them.

From the same Gallup poll noted above, we find that: “In fact, 40 percent of the people interviewed said they had more energy and creativity to give to the company than they were currently giving. More surprising still, 44% of the employees questioned agreed that they put in as little effort as they could without being fired.”

In her 2010 article, “The Law of the Hog–Are You Standing in the Way?,” Gail Pischak supports these statistics, “In fact the most common form of ‘feeding the hog’ is when employees react passively to bad treatment–they just don’t give their all or maybe they withhold information that could be essential to a decision. This is what is referred to as ‘Discretionary Effort.’ This means that employees make personal choices about how to spend their time at work–whether to be productive or not. By its definition, you can’t pay for Discretionary Effort; you can’t beat, cajole, or entice it out of anyone. It’s what employees do willingly, because they want to. Thus ‘The Law of the Hog’ is when good employees get fed up with how they’re being treated.”

Hogs are costly. That’s because as employees become disgruntled, they will use their discretionary time in non-productive ways. When employees feel mistreated by management the biggest time waster is that they spend hours fretting over how they’ve been treated—instead of doing their job or thinking about quality improvements, or better ways to serve customers, or new methods to increase productivity. It’s this absence of initiative, creativity and collaboration that really kills an organization. And recalling last weeks’ post: changing the way the desks are situated gives new meaning the old allegory of “rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.”

In their 2010 Strategy and Business article “Getting Back at the Boss–Passive Retaliation against Bad Management Finds its Fans in the Workplace,” authors Gary Charness (University of California at Santa Barbara) and David I. Levine (University of California at Berkeley) tell us: “Getting revenge against a supervisor is more acceptable to employees when the retaliation is an act of omission or inaction–essentially not doing something–than when it is an active attempt to cause harm. This is called “passive withdrawal of effort.” Examples of this would be something like: hiding a file or refraining from telling the boss its location. Also, denying knowledge about something when the boss is witch hunting would qualify despite actually being advantageous to all in the organization.

Most employee retaliation is done quietly “under the table.” This bears out from my own experience as I’ve noticed that really dysfunctional workplaces are not this intense atmosphere that you might think−people are just quietly doing the bare minimum of their jobs. Thus most highly dysfunctional organizations are relatively calm to an outside observer. That’s because, in workplace cultures that are rife with dysfunctional boss behavior, the general atmosphere is more of a general malaise that mutes all the drama. Of course the turmoil is there it’s just under the surface festering within each of the organization’s inhabitants. Plus if you’re going to sabotage the boss you don’t want to make it obvious–do you?

So a question naturally arises here:  What constitutes bad supervision, i.e., the kind that makes employees resort to retribution?” In most workplaces, it is the way the supervisors communicate with employees that’s usually the problem. A recent online survey indicated that 69% of respondents felt that it is difficult or impossible to confront and successfully resolve conflict with their boss.  More than half admitted to avoiding a crucial conversation with the boss and a full 93% of these say that it has affected the quality of their work. Thus as Patterson, Grenny, Switzler and McMillan would tell any manager: “Anytime you hold a crucial confrontation poorly a hog gets fed.”

It would seem that if supervisors and managers could handle confrontational topics with their employees in a direct and respectful manner it would go a long way to fostering a work environment where people feel trusted and can engage in activities that benefit both themselves and the business at hand. In other words they wouldn’t be forced into pondering retaliation. Sadly though, in a business world that preaches only “results by any means,” handling conflict is not seen as one of the core roles of management−in fact in most organizations conflict is usually originated by management.

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