In Western Europe, More Partners Than Bosses

by Ian T. Brown

Work partnerships improve satisfaction and productivity

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Across 29 countries in Europe, workers in Northern and Western Europe are more likely to say their supervisor treats them more as a partner than a boss, while in Eastern Europe, majorities felt the relationship was more hegemonic.


Of the countries where the majority of respondents felt their supervisor treated them as a boss, rather than a partner, all were formerly communist/socialist nations of the Eastern bloc. Among the countries where the majority felt treated as partners, only one country -- Romania -- was formerly communist.

These findings are noteworthy in light of a recent American Management Association (AMA) survey, "Cultivating Effective Corporate Cultures," which finds that the nature of employee-supervisor relationships can affect performance. Specifically, AMA finds that congenial relationships between supervisor and employee lead to higher retention and productivity. The AMA study underscores Gallup's own research, which finds that management practices that improve employee satisfaction may increase business profits.

Management Under Communist Rule

Vladimir Lenin, the first head of the Russian Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, argued that the best way to raise labor productivity was through strict control of production and distribution. Soviet managers were thus mandated to use a heavy hand in management; work conditions were at the absolute will of the Soviet director. On the other hand, the Western management model encouraged voluntary associations and exchanges, and let the market -- not party bosses -- dictate innovation. Western managers began to recognize the rights of the individual and of the individual within groups.

Gallup Polls evidence the relationship between partnership and satisfaction in countries across the former Eastern bloc. For those respondents who see their supervisor as a partner, an overwhelming 87% say they are satisfied with their work. Only 11% say they are not satisfied. For those who see their supervisor as a boss, 69% of respondents are satisfied with their job, and 27% were dissatisfied. Respondents who feel their supervisor treats them as a partner are also more likely to feel like they are doing what they do best, that someone encourages their development, and that their opinions count.


From Partnership to Production

Gallup compared the nature of supervisor-employee relationship -- whether boss or partner -- in each country with GDP per-capita estimates. Not surprisingly, based on the relationship between partnership and satisfaction mentioned previously, Gallup finds that in nearly every country where respondents feel their supervisor treats them as a partner those countries tend to have higher GDP per capita. Only in Portugal and Romania is GDP per capita lower than in nations where respondents see their supervisor as a boss.


Geert Hofstede's Power Distance Index (PDI), which measures the relationship between wealth gap and power distribution, finds that in countries where the gap between rich and poor is larger, citizens are more likely to accept and expect that unequal power distribution. The higher the PDI score, the more likely leaders and followers are to endorse a society's inequality. Western European nations tend to score low on the PDI.

Engage Them With Partnership

The "Cultivating Effective Corporate Cultures" AMA survey focused primarily on whether a boss treated his or her employees kindly, and concluded that bosses should engage their employees with kindness. The Gallup survey did not poll respondents on their supervisor's demeanor. Therefore a supervisor in Europe could theoretically act kindly as a boss, or nasty as a partner. However, Gallup concludes that supervisor-employee partnerships in former Eastern bloc nations were more likely to inspire employee satisfaction than hegemonic relationships. Further, higher GDP nations have more supervisor-employee partnerships. In a Europe where companies are struggling through the economic downturn, Gallup data underscore the potential bottom-line value of having supervisors collaborate with their employees rather than cracking the whip.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone and face-to-face interviews with approximately 1,000 adults, aged 15 and older, conducted in 2006. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

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