There is a seemingly endless debate in the human resources (HR) world about managers’ role in helping or hindering employee performance. Whatever side you’re on, managers are at the center of the Venn diagram: between the employer on one side and the employee on the other. Like it or not, their ability to manage directly impacts your workers.
While there are hundreds of thousands of postings for “manager” jobs on Indeed, the age-old tradition of promoting high-performing employees up the ranks means managers also come from within. The problem is, not everyone has the aptitude or the ambition to be a manager — and you may find that out the hard way.
To be clear: Most managers are amazing, and we should celebrate the essential work they do, often while under pressure and under-recognized. But everybody has a different skill set and you should not overlook that. Here are five workable strategies for identifying problems with managers and addressing them before they go viral.
Harness the power of analytics
According to Gallup, up to 75% of U.S. employee resignations can be traced back to the manager. The American Psychological Association finds that the same percentage of Americans say their “boss is the most stressful part of their workday.” If you have data on performance and attrition, take a closer look at where it’s coming from, then pinpoint the weak spots — down to the department, section and team.
This is not an encouragement to interrogate your entire management. But if it’s come to your attention that employees are grumbling, calling in sick or rolling their eyes, it may be time to look closer.
Survey employees on engagement
Engagement is the canary in the coal mine when it comes to employee retention and performance. Gallup finds that 53% of employees are disengaged at work, which leads to higher absenteeism, lower productivity and (unsurprisingly) lower profitability.
To reveal hidden problems and gauge employee sentiment, conduct surveys on engagement, then cross-reference the data between managers. This can uncover information from employees who are reluctant to speak up, don’t want to complain about their boss or are unclear as to why they’re disengaged. If troubling answers come to the surface, ask more questions.
It’s better if you already have a feedback program in place — but if you don’t, this is a good time to start. Once you open up the dialogue between employer and employees, keep it going regularly. Just keep surveys anonymous, or risk inflaming tensions and damaging morale.
Sample survey questions include:
- How do you feel about the quality of communication between you and your manager?
- Do you feel you can reach out to your manager at any time?
- Does your manager lay out clear expectations?
- If a problem arises, are you actively involved in troubleshooting?
- How would you characterize your manager’s leadership style?
- Does your manager give you room to learn, or do they micromanage?
- What kind of feedback are you getting from your manager?
Go to the source
When a conflict arises, ask managers themselves how they’re doing, giving them a safe opportunity to discuss challenges and stresses they’re facing. In addition to some frank, heartfelt answers, this approach has some key benefits. When managers feel their voice is heard and their side of the story is valued, the friction may go away on its own. If not, you now have the information you need to start fixing the problem.
This also gives you a clear view of the manager’s perspective, which helps inform the employee side. If you have one of the rare truly toxic managers, they’re likely to portray themselves as the innocent victim. They may also show their regard or disregard for certain workers — helping you assess the accuracy of claims of bias or unfairness.
As with any serious personnel issue, tread carefully. Make sure your legal team is consulted before getting involved. Consider bringing in a mediator or conflict-resolution specialist to resolve the issue and offer an outside perspective.
Don’t accept the unacceptable
From a leadership standpoint, there are always priorities jostling for attention. If HR is aware of problems with a manager, they may choose to monitor the situation to see if it escalates before taking action. Problems with managers can seem amorphous — a matter of “personalities,” or the result of a “complicated” individual — and there may be a tendency to let these go. But that’s unacceptable in a workplace.
Relationships and behaviors have boundaries, and your employees count on you to make sure managers are being observed. Whether the problem is unclear expectations, poor communication, apparent favoritism, an inability to manage schedules or even a clash of personalities, do not assume it will sort itself out. It won’t.
Valuing your employees means keeping them safe on the job, even from their manager. You have HR policies and procedures in place for a reason. Nothing will drag morale down faster than complaints about a manager going ignored, unheard or, even worse, blowing up in an employee’s face. And nothing inspires a disgruntled employee to post “don’t apply here” on a job board more than a company doing nothing to advocate for them.
Ultimately, problems with managers may be solved through training and education — particularly if the manager was promoted from within and not given the necessary leadership training. But sometimes more drastic action is required, and you may need to make some hard choices.
This can be scary during a time of record-low unemployment, when most organizations are starving for talent. But like it or not, the buck stops with the managers. The good ones know it, and the bad ones need to know it. The most expensive thing you can do is nothing. Protect your bottom line — and your employees — by mitigating problems with managers wherever you find them.
Meghan M. Biro is a globally recognized analyst, author, speaker and brand strategist. The founder of TalentCulture, she hosts #WorkTrends, a popular weekly Twitter Chat and podcast. Her career spans across recruiting, talent management, digital media and brand strategy for hundreds of companies, from startups to global brands like Microsoft, IBM and Google. She also serves on advisory boards for leading HR technology brands. Meghan can be regularly found on Forbes, SHRM, and a variety of other outlets. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram.
The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Indeed.