Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

Does your office have a ‘jock culture’? (And should you break it up?)

These are stories Report on Business followed this week.

Follow Michael Babad and The Globe's Business Briefing on Twitter.

You'll be forgiven if all you talked about at the office this week was hockey.

Story continues below advertisement

But set aside the chatter over the valiant effort by the Habs and ask yourself if your workplace otherwise has a "jock culture."

Jim Doughterty's did. And he didn't like it.

What's more, as the boss he could do something about it. And, in the end, he found corporate life, and performance, much better without it.

"I wound up replacing that team with a mixture of men and women with many different backgrounds, effectively breaking up the company's sports cabal," Mr. Doughtery writes in a Harvard Business Review blog, referring to a research firm he headed.

"Soon the jock network was gone. It was not intentional - I never consciously thought, 'I need to get rid of the jocks.' I just put in place the folks I thought were best, jock or not."

Mr. Doughterty, an entrepreneur and senior lecturer at MIT Sloan School of Management, tells of how he took over this large, unidentified operation that was close to failing.

The group he inherited was made up entirely of men, all one-time jocks.

Story continues below advertisement

"The sports focus created enormous insularity - it was difficult for anyone who didn't follow the Bruins or the Pats to gain traction in a conversation," Mr. Dougherty writes.

"Meanwhile, their business performance was abysmal. These guys would make a forecast on Monday and miss it Friday of that same week."

Many firms have such cultures, according to Mr. Dougherty, and it's a bad thing.

These groups are largely male, when women are needed "to better team performance." And sports metaphors get tiresome. And "groupthink" can be bad.

Mr. Dougherty said he learned how this was hurting his company's results, adding several people who were excluded from the sports group were demoralized, believing they wouldn't be promoted or rewarded properly.

That changed, though, and they soon "began to shine" when the jock shock ended.

Story continues below advertisement

There's a cost to all this on a grander scale, of course, though disengagement among employees goes well beyond jock cultures.

Gallup, for example, said in a recent study that "active disengagement" in American workplaces costs the United States between $450-billion (U.S.) and $550-billion annually.

Disengaged troops make for absent, lazier and careless troops.

"Organizations with an average of 9.3 engaged employees for every actively disengaged employee in 2010-2011 experienced 147-per-cent higher earnings per share (EPS) compared with their competition in 2011-2012," Gallup said.

"In contrast, those with an average of 2.6 engaged employees for every disengaged employee experienced 2-per-cent lower EPS compared with their competition during that same time period."

The week in Business Briefing

The week in Streetwise (for subscribers)

The week in Real estate

The week in ROB Insight (for subscribers)

The week's top news

The week's must-reads

Report an error Editorial code of conduct Licensing Options
As of December 20, 2017, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this resolved by the end of January 2018. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to