More than Anything Else, Your Boss Can Make or Break Your Happiness at Work

Long hours and less-than-ideal pay might make you angsty about the work you do, but there is some evidence to suggest one thing has the biggest impact on how you feel about your job—your boss, or at least your perception of them.

Benjamin Artz, associate professor at the University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh, was part of a research team that asked 35,000 workers in various industries in the U.S. and Britain to rank their job satisfaction. The results were fair to middling—in the U.S., the average satisfaction was 3.5 out of 5. In Britain, it was 5.3 out of 7. bossNot so bad, I guess.

But one factor stuck out in the survey responses as a game-changer for job satisfaction, Artz said to Rewire.

boss“We wanted to see if the technical competence of a supervisor or a boss had impact on how satisfied people are with their jobs,” Artz said. “What made us curious about this is if you’re a worker and you perceive that your boss doesn’t know what they’re doing and you could do a far better job than your boss, you’re less satisfied with your job.”

The researchers found that anecdotal evidence they’d heard before doing the study rang true.

In fact, when people suggest that their boss is not competent in doing their own job, that seems to have the most impact on (the employee’s) job satisfaction, more than how many hours they work, how long they’ve been there and how much money they make,” he said.

Having a boss we think is incompetent does serious damage to the way we view our work. But what can redeem a boss in our eyes?

Artz said a worker is more prone to respect their boss and be happier in their job if the boss worked their way up to their place in the organization rather than being hired on as a supervisor.

“Bosses with technical knowledge of all the job tasks that require coordination will likely have a better chance of effectively increasing productivity than a boss that does not have knowledge of the tasks,” he said.

Another plus is the supervisor’s ability to do other jobs besides their own. “If a worker gets sick or needs to do something else, like go on vacation, if the boss could simply do (that worker’s) tasks while the person is away,” it generates respect from the employee and makes them happier in their job.

“If a boss can do your job, that implies the boss knows your job tasks and is aware of what you are contributing to the firm’s production,” he said. “Bosses with such knowledge can support promotions and raises for workers, whereas bosses that do not really understand or know what their subordinates do cannot act as credible advocates of subordinate advancement.”

bossSo, how can we take control of our happiness at work? If you find yourself questioning your boss’s understanding of what you do, make a point of explaining your work and processes to them, Artz said.

“It would be mutually beneficial for workers to explain their jobs completely” to their bosses, he said. And supervisors out there—you should be prepared to listen and learn. It’ll make your workplace a happier, more productive environment.

“Bosses should take it upon themselves to understand what their subordinates are doing so they don’t expect too much for them, or perhaps even too little from them,” Artz said.

Katie Moritz

Katie Moritz is Rewire’s senior editor and a Pisces who enjoys thrift stores and pho. Reach her via email at [email protected] or on Twitter @katecmoritz.