I feel like the relationship between employee and direct manager has been doomed for years now. Some people have great immediate bosses, and that’s all good for them. But for most people, it seems as if the direct manager ends up becoming the worst part of a job.
Consider a little bit of research: per Hogan Assessments (2014), about 75% of employees report that “the worst part of their job” is their direct manager. 65% of employees would prefer a new boss over a pay raise. That’s all some heady stuff — you need money to have the kind of life you want, and people are still saying “Hold the money, and please remove my ass clown of a direct manager.” Almost 7 in 10 people are saying that? Wow.
Finally by way of intro: we know that 41% of employees globally will do a significant job search this year, and almost all of them list “bad manager” as the No. 1 reason why.
So where does all this suss out? What can we do?
Direct manager caveats
Take that 65% stat above. Find one of the people who fell into the 65%. Now offer them a raise and the same boss. They’re probably taking the raise. We all know that. People sometimes lie on surveys, or they give a contextual answer — like maybe that day, their direct manager was awful. This is why it’s so amazing that companies base so many decisions off surveys, which are snapshots in time. Anyway, that’s a whole ‘nother post.
Also, I don’t think there’s such a thing as a bad employee — and that goes for managers too. Some managers are terrible in one role/department, and if they switch companies/roles, they’d get better. That’s because of the monster we’re going to confront in the next section.
Why are so many direct managers so bad?
If the monster has multiple heads, they’d be:
- The organization itself lacks priority
- Most of the focus is ultimately on process
- The concept of managing others is not intuitive to many
- Face to face communication is replaced by hiding behind a platform
- The goal is to please the “key stakeholders” and show “innovative growth models,” not to care about employees
All of us to some extent protect our own neck. As a result, we need to please our immediate boss. Well, your immediate boss probably has a direct manager too. He/she gotta please him/her. You just became less of a priority. The founder of Y Combinator has written about this.
Can we fix this?
Not really. At the individual level, sure. But work is moving much closer to automation, and relatively quickly. The guys making decisions at companies actually want to see less people around, and care about them less as well. (Not all decision-makers, but many, are thinking this way. It’s an effective cost play for them.)
The other thing is that we pull the wool over our eyes about technology. Tech is good and connects people and scales businesses fast. That’s all nice. Here’s what it also does:
- Easier to automate out certain roles for people
- Less jobs are actually needed because one person can have more workload with assistance of tech
- Allows managers to hide behind platforms
- Also allows companies to buy a ‘managerial improvement solution,’ deploy it, have everyone ignore it, the company doesn’t renew the contract, and the company can now say “Eh, we did something“
Employee engagement stats have been dropping for a decade-plus. So no, direct managers aren’t getting much better at working with their people. And I don’t see that as the direction we’re headed either. If anything, seeing young guys get rich off tech is going to make more people over-focus on product and process while ignoring people.
What would make a better direct manager?
Let me direct you to a few resources:
- 23 ways to approach leadership
- Managerial skills a boss needs
- Maximizing your front-line leadership
- Communicate and work with people, good sir
- Determine and articulate project priorities
You could honestly pull up any article on this blog and probably be good. I talk about these issues almost every day.
What else you got on being a better direct manager?