The best books on (mis)managing people at work

Why am I passionate about this?

I've been studying people at work for over 40 years, starting as an undergraduate at Cornell’s School of Labor Relations. As a student, I got involved with the trade union movement in the US, and worked as an assembly-line worker and fruit picker on kibbutzim in Israel. These hands-on experiences made me want to understand and have an impact on the way people spend most of their working hours. I’ve collected survey data from literally thousands of workers in dozens of studies conducted around the world. I’ve published more articles in scholarly journals than I ever imagined possible. And while I’m still passionate about the study of work, I’ve yet to really understand it.


I wrote...

Exposing Pay: Pay Transparency and What It Means for Employees, Employers, and Public Policy

By Peter A. Bamberger,

Book cover of Exposing Pay: Pay Transparency and What It Means for Employees, Employers, and Public Policy

What is my book about?

In Exposing Pay, Peter Bamberger provides evidence-based insights into how pay communication policies and practices impact outcomes at individual, organizational, and societal levels. Bamberger reviews findings from the recent surge in pay transparency research to help employees, managers, and policymakers better understand when pay communication policies and practices might enhance organizational performance and address social inequality and when such practices can lead to harmful consequences. Starting with a short overview of how companies have addressed the question of pay transparency over the past century and a brief summary of contemporary transparency regulations in dozens of countries, Exposing Pay presents findings on various forms of pay transparency on such outcomes as individual task performance, employee retention, and turnover, citizenship behaviors such as helping, counter-productive work behavior, and pay dispersion or spread.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success

Peter A. Bamberger Why did I love this book?

Give and Take presents the literature on pro-social behavior in organizations in a reader-friendly format.

Grant combines storytelling with evidence-based insights in a way that few other social scientists can. The analysis largely focuses on the individual – that is what you can expect as a “giver”, “taker” or “matcher”. However, the insights also say a lot about what organizations can do to create cultures that promote helping and, no less importantly, help-seeking. 

As one who studies interpersonal relations at work, this book was a wake up call about the need to present evidence-based research on critical workplace issues in a manner that is accessible and interesting to all.

By Adam Grant,

Why should I read it?

9 authors picked Give and Take as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A groundbreaking look at why our interactions with others hold the key to success, from the bestselling author of Think Again and Originals

For generations, we have focused on the individual drivers of success: passion, hard work, talent, and luck. But in today's dramatically reconfigured world, success is increasingly dependent on how we interact with others. In Give and Take, Adam Grant, an award-winning researcher and Wharton's highest-rated professor, examines the surprising forces that shape why some people rise to the top of the success ladder while others sink to the bottom. Praised by social scientists, business theorists, and corporate…


Book cover of What the Dog Saw: And Other Adventures

Peter A. Bamberger Why did I love this book?

Malcom Gladwell is undoubtedly the best translator of social science research writing these days. 

What the Dog Saw is a compendium of New Yorker essays penned by Gladwell, several of which have a direct link to managing people. Two of my favorites are “Late Bloomers” – an essay on the fallacy of inherent talent, and “Most Likely to Succeed”.

These essays say a lot about employee selection and development, challenging the assumptions held by too many managers that good staff are born, not made, and that selecting top talent is the key to competitive advantage. Gladwell goes with the evidence, but does so in a super-engaging manner. 

By Malcolm Gladwell,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked What the Dog Saw as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Malcolm Gladwell is the master of playful yet profound insight. His ability to see underneath the surface of the seemingly mundane taps into a fundamental human impulse: curiosity. From criminology to ketchup, job interviews to dog training, Malcolm Gladwell takes everyday subjects and shows us surprising new ways of looking at them, and the world around us. Are smart people overrated? What can pit bulls teach us about crime? Why are problems like homelessness easier to solve than to manage? How do we hire when we can't tell who's right for the job? Gladwell explores the minor geniuses, the underdogs…


Book cover of The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn't

Peter A. Bamberger Why did I love this book?

Aside from my research on rewards management, pro-social organizational behavior, and employee substance misuse, I’ve focused a lot of my attention on workplace incivility. 

Bob Sutton’s book was one of the factors leading me to look at this topic.  We’ve all encountered incivility at work and all know – at least implicitly – how it impacts us. Sutton’s book was one of the first to make sense – at least for me – of such behavior, not only by identify the “dirty dozen” (12 highly prevalent manifestations of workplace incivility), but also by detailing how damaging such behavior can be to individuals and the organizations employing them.

Aside from giving me insight into the prevalence and nature of employee MIS-management, this book was the start of a personal journey to discover some of the less obvious (but potentially more robust) implications of such problematic organizational behavior.

By Robert I. Sutton,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The No Asshole Rule as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

When the Harvard Business Review asked Robert Sutton for suggestions for its annual list of Breakthrough Ideas, he told them that the best business practice he knew of was 'the no asshole rule'. Sutton's piece became one of the most popular articles ever to appear in the HBR. Spurred on by the fear and despair that people expressed, the tricks they used to survive with dignity in asshole-infested places, the revenge stories that made him laugh out loud and the other small wins that they celebrated against mean-spirited people, Sutton was persuaded to write THE NO ASSHOLE RULE. He believes…


Book cover of In Search of Memory: The Emergence of a New Science of Mind

Peter A. Bamberger Why did I love this book?

Eric Kandel won the Nobel Prize in Medicine for his seminal research on learning and memory. 

This book tells the highly personal story of his scientific journey, starting with his childhood as a Jew in Nazi-controlled Vienna, and his escape to the United States. Kandel explains in layman's terms the way in which organisms (he starts with snails!) remember and learn. How does this all link back to managing people? 

Great managers are – at their core – superb coaches. And great coaches need to understand the neuropsychology of learning – a super-complex process, but one explained by Kandel in terms we can all understand. 

By Eric R. Kandel,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked In Search of Memory as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Memory binds our mental life together. We are who we are in large part because of what we learn and remember. But how does the brain create memories? Nobel Prize winner Eric R. Kandel intertwines the intellectual history of the powerful new science of the mind-a combination of cognitive psychology, neuroscience, and molecular biology-with his own personal quest to understand memory. A deft mixture of memoir and history, modern biology and behavior, In Search of Memory brings readers from Kandel's childhood in Nazi-occupied Vienna to the forefront of one of the great scientific endeavors of the twentieth century: the search…


Book cover of Thinking, Fast and Slow

Peter A. Bamberger Why did I love this book?

Managers tend to think that the key to managing people is understanding how their subordinates consciously respond to the situations in which they find themselves at work. 

This book, summarizing decades of research by the Nobel-winning author and his colleague, Amos Tversky, shows why no less importance must be paid to employees’ more automatic responses.

This book got me to think about how pay transparency (and other pay-related factors) can impact employee behavior in ways that employees may not even be consciously aware of, and what management must do in order to take these automatic responses into account. 

By Daniel Kahneman,

Why should I read it?

42 authors picked Thinking, Fast and Slow as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The phenomenal international bestseller - 2 million copies sold - that will change the way you make decisions

'A lifetime's worth of wisdom' Steven D. Levitt, co-author of Freakonomics
'There have been many good books on human rationality and irrationality, but only one masterpiece. That masterpiece is Thinking, Fast and Slow' Financial Times

Why is there more chance we'll believe something if it's in a bold type face? Why are judges more likely to deny parole before lunch? Why do we assume a good-looking person will be more competent? The answer lies in the two ways we make choices: fast,…


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Book cover of Liddy-Jean Marketing Queen and the Matchmaking Scheme

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