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How Common are Bad Bosses?

Artz, B., Goodall, A. H. ORCID: 0000-0002-9074-1157 & Oswald, A. J. (2020). How Common are Bad Bosses?. Industrial Relations: a journal of economy and society, 59(1), pp. 3-39. doi: 10.1111/irel.12247


Bosses play a fundamental role in workplaces. Yet almost nothing is known about an important and basic question in labour economics and industrial relations. Are the right people promoted to be supervisors, team leaders, and managers? The infamous Peter Principle claims that incompetent bosses are likely to be all around us, but is that true? This paper provides the first statistically representative international estimates -- taking comparable data on 35 nations -- of the extent to which employees have ‘bad bosses’. Using a natural measure, the paper calculates that approximately 13% of Europe’s workers have a bad boss. Such bosses are most common in large organizations, in organizations without employee-representation committees, in the transport sector, and where workers themselves have no supervisory responsibility. Lastly, the paper offers a practical finding as a potential aid to human-resource training and hiring. Contrary to media portrayals, bad bosses are rated least-bad on ‘respect for workers’ and worst on their ability to get the job done. Lack of competence, not lack of consideration, appears to be the key problem.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: This is the peer reviewed version of the following article: Artz, B., Goodall, A.H. and Oswald, A.J. (2020), How Common Are Bad Bosses?. Ind Relat, 59: 3-39, which has been published in final form at This article may be used for non-commercial purposes in accordance with Wiley Terms and Conditions for Use of Self-Archived Versions.
Publisher Keywords: bosses, Peter Principle, job satisfaction, supervisors, well-being
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HD Industries. Land use. Labor > HD28 Management. Industrial Management
Departments: Bayes Business School > Management
[thumbnail of Bad Bosses Artz Goodall Oswald forthcoming IR 2019.pdf]
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