If you stopped and thought about the general (because every situation is unique) relationship between employees and their managers, you might honestly think each side was speaking a different language: maybe the employee is coming to work and doing their day-to-day tasks in English, but the manager is speaking French. Of course that’s not the actual reality, but if often feels that way. But why?
First, consider a few examples:
- By some measures, 95 percent of managers don’t understand what motivates their employees.
- Most managers believe extrinsic motivators (think “salary”) are important to employees; they are, but not as much as other things.
- There’s a total lack of alignment on the importance of respect in the workplace.
- When people leave jobs, bosses assign their departure to a reason that almost never aligns with why the employee actually left.
- 53 percent of employees say “inadequate staffing” causes stress at work, but only 15 percent of managers believe this.
- Meanwhile, 33 percent of managers think having-to-always-answer-email is the leading cause of stress, but only 8 percent of employees believe this. (Same survey as above.)
These are just a handful of examples; other people could find more.
Here’s where it can get confusing: at some point, almost all managers were rank-and-file employees. Very few people begin their career as a manager. It can happen if your dad ran a business or something, but it’s rare.
So … what happens to a person between “employee” and “manager” that makes them unable to relate back to where they were?
I’d auger there are a couple of issues at play here:
- More Responsibility: As you move up a chain to a manager role, you inherently have more to do. Deliverables become more important, whereas relating back down the chain becomes less so.
- Importance Shifts: Managers tend to be a little closer to how and when/why a company makes money. When you’re at that level, you think about that more. As a rank-and-file, you don’t as much.
- Invisible Barriers: Often in organizations, managers have more meetings with each other — more on that here — so that it almost creates a clique of managers vs. employees.
- Vocabulary Changes: Rank-and-files don’t talk about “margins,” for example (not often). Managers do. Over time, a shift in your work vocabulary can create distance from another group.
- Shit Runs Downhill: In the process of trying to get promoted, a manager dealt with a lot of bullshit. Now, as a manager, they push some of that back down the chain. Everyone’s always done that, right?
I’ve worked with a handful of people who have, while I’ve worked with them, become managers. I’d say the change isn’t even gradual — within 3 to 6 months, they can seemingly be speaking an entirely different language and running around like a chicken with their head cut off from meeting to meeting to call to call. (Meetings and calls, oh my!) They also tend to couch real issues — if you go to them and don’t feel 100 percent engaged, they’ll say shit like, “Well, the company believes that…”
It can be a pretty drastic shift. I think it’s one of the funniest things in your work life — how fast that can happen.
I guess it’s almost akin to “growing up” in a work sense. When you “grow up” in a personal sense along different areas of your life, you move some friends to acquaintances and vice versa. Dynamics shift. You can surround yourself with different people, etc. It’s probably the same here.
We all know workplace communication is far from ideal, and we all know that most managers aren’t really that effective — but if you stop and think about it, how could communication or managers be effective? On every major topic, it seems like rank-and-file employees and the managers they report to are perceiving the same set of information totally differently. They’re speaking a different language.
Do you think employees and managers CAN relate? If so, how?