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We've all heard the lament from a frustrated studio manager,
design firm principal or in-house design team leader, or maybe
we've said it ourselves: “I've done my best, but certain members of
my staff just have a bad attitude.” This comment may be followed by
expressions of sympathy from fellow managers and dark conversations
about replacing staff or taking up drinking.
It's true that bad attitudes are a real problem, but the source
might not be workers who are intentionally lazy or difficult. Think
about it: How many creative people do you know who take delight in
not being productive?
Of course employees have always blamed the problem on bad
management. And it makes intuitive sense that good or bad
management can affect worker attitudes and performance. However,
until now the scientific evidence has let management off the
Employee attitudes have been the topic of thousands of studies
worldwide, but these studies have usually looked at individual
workers. Few studies looked for the existence of “group workplace
attitudes” and none tried to find linkages between these attitudes
and productivity. So, not surprisingly, no clear linkages have been
This made it easy for managers to continue wringing their hands
and complaining about the quality of the new graduates and general
bad attitudes—while also continuing to manage the same way they
always have and wondering why the results never seem different.
Well, guess what? A 2004 paper
published by the National Bureau of Economic Research says the
employees may have been right after all.
The study—by Ann Bartel and Casey Ichniowski at Columbia
Business School, Richard Freeman at the National Bureau of
Economics, and Morris Kleiner at the University of Minnesota—is the
first to provide clear evidence that management does matter. Their
report concludes the workplace can induce positive or negative
attitudes among its employees and that such “workplace attitudes”
affect economic outcomes.
Their study compared the “group attitude” among workers at 193
branches of a major U.S. bank in 1994 and then returned in 1996 to
study 143 branches of the same bank.
The results support two main conclusions and put much of the
responsibility for worker attitude right back in the lap of
management. The study's results show there are happy and unhappy
workplaces, as well as happy and unhappy workers, with profound
impacts on productivity and turnover.
Branches where workers reported they felt fairly compensated,
well trained, listened to and respected had better productivity and
lower turnover than those branches where workers had less positive
attitudes. In fact, branches with unhappy workers performed so
badly they were more likely to simply be closed. Furthermore—and
this is the part that grabbed my attention—attitudes persisted at
individual branches over time, and newly hired workers were
infected with the good or bad attitudes that the branches exhibited
before they arrived.
So, what does this have to do with you? The good news is the
report provides some clear indicators of what good management looks
like and what we can do to improve worker attitudes and the
creative and economic results of our own design departments.
The employees of branches with good attitudes and good economic
performance reported greater satisfaction with four factors any
studio manager or design firm principal has the power to
On the surface that's not much help, but if we look a little
deeper at the survey responses there are some clear messages we can
take to heart.
It takes a lot of commitment and courage to create this kind of
environment. But it just might be a lot more satisfying—and
productive—to lead a staff of creative professionals working
together as a team with great attitudes. What do you think? Are you
up for the challenge?
AIGA members have opportunities to learn new skills, get advice on
pressing career questions, hear insights from industry leaders and learn
how to manage more effectively. Find out more about exclusive webinars, workshops, certificate courses and conferences.
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