Does it Pay to Just Be Nice?

One of the best ways to increase worker productivity may be easier than you think.
By: | September 17, 2018 • 2 min read
Shot of colleagues having a discussion in a modern office

As organizations brainstorm innovative ways to increase worker productivity without losing valuable talent in the tight labor market, new research suggests one strategy could be simple, yet effective: Be compassionate.

In a study led by Binghamton University, researchers studied 200 full-time U.S. employees and 1,000 members of the Taiwanese military to explore how different management styles impacted subordinates’ performance. The research found that the benevolence-dominant leadership style—in which a superior has a primary focus on his or her subordinates’ wellbeing—“almost always” positively affected job performance. Equally successful was the classical paternalistic style, which combines authoritarianism and benevolence, equating task completion and worker wellbeing.

The most unsuccessful style was authoritarianism-dominant, in which a leader prioritizes his or her full control over subordinates, with a heavy emphasis on task completion and little thought to worker wellbeing. In situations in which this style was employed, worker productively was almost always negatively impacted, researchers found.


Interestingly, the results were the same across both population groups, despite cultural differences.

That consistency “suggests that the effectiveness of paternalistic leadership may be more broad-based than previously thought, and it may be all about how people respond to leaders and not about where they live or the type of work they do,” said lead researcher Chou-Yu Tsai, an assistant professor of management at Binghamton University’s School of Management.

As organizations increasingly move away from thinking about their employees as resources to recognizing their individual contributions—and HR titles subsequently evolve—the new research reinforces the importance of that transition.