Gap Exists Between What Workers Need and Get from Boss

By Kathy Gurchiek Nov 22, 2010
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U.S. workers would prefer a boss who can coach them to success, be a team player and provide clear goals and the tools to reach them. Someone who is more Oprah Winfrey than Simon Cowell, according to a 2010 Adecco survey of 1,000 employed U.S. adults.

And while what they often get is someone who issues orders and expects compliance, workers generally like their bosses—61 percent consider their boss a friend, although about one-third who are connected to their boss through a social network site wish they weren’t.

The trust and respect they have for the boss is high—86 percent trust their boss, and 91 percent respect their boss and believe that this respect is returned.

A divide still exists, though, between what employees want and what they think they are getting from their leaders, said Tig Gilliam, CEO of Adecco Group North America.

“What businesses will want to focus on now, as America begins to rebuild, is staying very close to their talent and giving both management and employees the tools, training and attention they need to stay engaged and committed,” he said in a news release.

However, “what you want [from your boss] is not always what you need,” observed Bruce Tulgan, author of It’s Okay to Manage Your Boss (Jossey-Bass, 2010). Low performers, for example, want a boss “who leaves them alone and treats them like everybody else,” he said.

'Under-Management' Epidemic

Tulgan claims the workplace suffers from an epidemic of ‘under-management,’ which he believes can be traced to nearly all workplace problems.

“Most managers do not spend enough time in one-on-one communication with direct reports, talking through the details of the work sufficiently” so they can carry out the assignment properly, he said.

Under-management occurs for a variety of reasons, he said, including a fear of micromanaging. When that happens, managers fail on a regular basis to give workers the basics:

  • Clearly spelled out, reasonable expectations, including specific guidelines and a concrete timetable.
  • The skills, tools and resources necessary to meet those expectations, or an acknowledgment that the employee is being asked to meet expectations without the necessary resources.
  • Accurate and honest performance feedback and, when necessary, course-correcting direction.
  • Recognition and rewards for performance.

A quick pro-forma check-in is no substitute for one-on-one communication with an employee, Tulgan said. Without regular communication, he noted, there is no way the supervisor can set meaningful goals for the employee, clarify expectations, monitor performance, provide useful coaching or recognize employee successes.

There’s a misunderstanding that empowering an employee means leaving them to perform their work without guidance, and that’s when things go wrong, he said.

“Sometimes problems hide and fester and turn into big problems. Sometimes people do their tasks the wrong way for a long period of time without realizing it. … Sometimes people don’t know what they don’t know,” Tulgan said.

When things go sour, the formerly hands-off manager might suddenly kick in with “negative behaviors that employees don’t want from their manager.”

HR’s Role

“HR should be providing a lot more realistic training for managers,” Tulgan said, such as seminars on how to coach employees and how to be clear about expectations. “The training most managers get is not terribly useful.”

HR should emphasize to managers the responsibility they have for those they supervise.

“Pretending you don’t have power over someone else’s livelihood and career is not stepping up to your responsibilities. … It shouldn’t be taken lightly,” he said. “Make that clear to managers and hold them accountable for doing it, and teach employees how to get what they need from their manager.”

HR can provide managers and employees with easy-to-use tools, such as to track performance, plan projects and log time worked.

Employees have responsibilities as well, according to Tulgan.

That includes understanding exactly what is expected of them, tracking their performance, making sure they have the resources they need for an assignment, customizing their approach to every boss they answer to, and—the hardest of all—getting in the habit of having regular, one-on-one management conversations with each of those bosses.

Kathy Gurchiek is associate editor for HR News. She can be reached at kathy.gurchiek@shrm.org.

Related Articles:

Jacob, Judge Judy Remind Workers of Bosses, HR News, Sept. 21, 2010

Avoid These ‘Bad Boss’ Mistakes and Get Ready for Rebound, SHRM Online Business Leadership Discipline, April 27, 2009

Boss Factor Can Make or Break Retention, HR News, Jan. 15, 2008

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