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Ask HR: Tips for Managing Up

SHRM President and Chief Executive Officer Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP, is answering HR questions as part of a series for USA Today.

Do you have an HR or work-related question you'd like him to answer? Submit it here. 

My manager is very inconsistent. He starts off extremely hands-off, then out of the blue, he starts to show concern about our work. He scrutinizes our work, becoming hypercritical. Then he starts micromanaging us, reassigning our tasks. Once things settle down, he shifts back to hands-off mode. It's very draining and confusing. Can we get him to change his management style? —Kabri

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.: I feel your frustration here. Having a manager with an inconsistent leadership style can be overwhelming and exhausting. I hesitate to suggest that you can get your manager to alter his management approach. Certainly, only he can do that. However, your feedback can bring awareness to the situation and help your manager learn to be more effective and consistent.

Start with empathy. Look at the situation from your manager's perspective. The pressure to perform can make leading a team extremely stressful. How your team operates is a reflection on your manager. His shifts in approach may stem from the pressure he faces from a higher level. In addition, your manager may be experiencing the personal fears and insecurity many contend with at some level and is letting them affect his management style.

Whatever you do to increase your manager's awareness of what is going on in your operation can help him make better managerial decisions. Utilize shared documents, calendars and other resources to provide your manager and team members with real-time status updates on individual and team tasks and goals. Your manager may be less inclined to micromanage if he sees evidence that targets are being met.

If you feel comfortable, meet with your manager to discuss the adverse effects you are experiencing from his current management style. Believe it or not, some managers may need to realize the impact they are having. You can help by offering strategies for an improved employee/manager relationship. Find out what his pain points are. Ask what information he needs to use in his day-to-day management or to share with his superiors. You may need to readjust your focus to home in on the needs of your manager.

If you are uncertain of his expectations, ask him to review your job description with you to clarify and better understand your role. Does your job description accurately reflect your manager's current expectations? Over time, work expectations often evolve without explicit notice to workers or updates to job descriptions. Also, don't be afraid to share your accomplishments, which may in turn boost your manager's confidence in your abilities.

If these actions are not applicable, or if they are taken and do not improve the situation, you should consult HR. HR can provide guidance or address the situation directly with your manager.

I hope these strategies help. Wishing you all the best in the coming year!

I took a new job, and it turned out to be different than I expected. I feel like taking this new job was a mistake. I talked to my old boss, and she said she would take me back anytime I wanted. I told my new boss I might resign, even though I'd only been there nine months. I don't know that this is a good career move. What can I do now, since I already talked to both bosses? I don't want to ruin my relationship with either, but I feel I am coming across as unprofessional. Would I be burning a bridge leaving my current employer? —Leslie

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.: I can relate to being in a new job and realizing it wasn't a good fit. Since you've already spoken with both bosses, you need to make a decision. Even though quitting a job after a short time is not ideal, there are ways to resign without burning bridges. Before you finalize your decision, consider the following.

First, ask yourself why you left your old job. Was it due to a lack of career growth, difficulty working with your co-workers, dissatisfaction with compensation, or something else? If the problems still exist, I wouldn't suggest returning to your previous job, at least not without having a conversation with your former boss about why you left and whether those areas will improve if you decide to return.

Next, consider why you feel like taking this new job was a mistake. Did you need to understand the role better, or was the job posting or description misleading? Are the problems you are experiencing solvable? Consider if there are ways to improve your current work experience. Write down why your job differs from what you expected, along with any other concerns, and have an honest conversation with your current boss. Most managers want their employees to succeed. You can brainstorm options to help improve your current work situation.

If you decide to leave your current employer, there are ways to handle the situation professionally. Tell your boss in person and provide at least two weeks' notice in writing unless you have an employment contract that states otherwise. Offer to train your replacement or be available to assist with questions, given the timeline. And thank them for the opportunities they provided you.

Ultimately, you have three options, not just two. If you can resolve the concerns with your current job, consider giving it a chance. If you don't believe things can change for the better, you can either return to your old position or look for a new opportunity. Keep in mind that staying in a position that isn't a good fit will do more damage to your reputation and career in the long run.

Whatever you decide to do, do it soon and make the best decision not just for your short-term career goals but for your long-term goals as well.


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