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Here to Work. Period. The Impact of Supervisor Bottom-Line Mentality on Employees

March 30, 2020

By Justin Walker

Profits are an important—if not the most important—aspect to a company. They drive operations and allow for growth to occur. In fact, they are so significant, they cause some supervisors to focus purely on the bottom line. While profits may grow from this mentality, it may not be the most effective strategy from a managerial perspective.

“Supervisor bottom-line mentality is a construct assessing the extent to which the supervisor is focused on one thing above all else,” Assistant Professor of Management Matthew Quade said. “Typically, what they are focused on is profits. Those competing priorities that they are excluding or not paying attention to typically become things like employee well-being, ethics or environmental concerns.”

Quade joined Benjamin McLarty of Mississippi State University and Julena Bonner of Utah State University to study the impact this strategy has on employee behavior. Their article, “The Influence of Supervisor Bottom-Line Mentality and Employee Bottom-Line Mentality on Leader-Member Exchange and Subsequent Employee Performance,” was accepted for publication in Human Relations.

The article evaluates how bottom-line mentality of a supervisor interacts with employees who may or may not also have the same strategy, and how these interactions impact leader-member exchange–how employees rate their relationships with supervisors. The research team surveyed 866 people, with half of those surveyed as supervisors to the other half of the sample. A variety of industries and jobs were included in the group, with age and positions ranging throughout the companies.

“What we find is employees are less likely to want to work hard or work well for those types of supervisors, so their performance usually goes down,” Quade said. “Another finding is if an employee also has that same bottom-line approach, the effect is still negative.”

The latter discovery was particularly interesting to Quade. The team had assumed that maybe if the employees were also focused on profits, the leader-member exchange would be positive. However, employees with bottom-line mentality signaled they prefer for supervisors to care about other aspects of the organization, such as employee well-being, decision making and stakeholders.

The research is impactful from a managerial standpoint, Quade said. Some supervisors may not recognize the vibe they give off to their employees, which may cause a lag in job performance. It’s important for bottom-line mentality to be viewed as a leadership strategy rather than a character trait. If supervisors can recognize this mentality as something that can be changed, it will be easier to adopt a more productive approach to managing employees.

“The perception that your people have of you is really what they respond to,” Quade said. “It doesn’t matter that you may have good intentions, they will respond to your current behaviors and how they perceive you.”

Their research may also serve as a means of comfort for some people who have dealt with a supervisor’s bottom-line mentality in the past, Quade said. By naming the experience, it helps people process what they have been through. While employees may respond accordingly to the strategy of their supervisor, it is important for them to recognize the morality of their response. Working less hard may seem like an acceptable approach in the moment, but Quade agrees most people would agree that it is not acceptable behavior.

To avoid the potentially negative leader-member exchange, supervisors need to identify whether or not they demonstrate this bottom-line strategy, Quade said.

“You have to have an awareness of how your people perceive you as a leader. That’s what they are going to respond to,” he said. “I talk about this in my classes a lot. You have to consider if your intentions as a leader are being practiced effectively and whether they are aligned with employee perceptions of your leadership.”

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