NEW YORK (MainStreet) Here's something interesting about the employment. According to a recent Gallup poll, only about 30% of Americans working full time say they're engaged and inspired by their work. That leaves 70 million of us who are unplugged, disconnected or just plain bored between the hours of 9 and 5 every day. That's a lot of people unhappy with their jobs and, according to the data, it all starts at the top: "The single biggest decision you make in your job bigger than all the rest is who you name manager. When you name the wrong person manager, nothing fixes that bad decision. Not compensation, not benefits nothing." The fact is we've all had that experience, working under someone who turns your career into nothing more than a place to park and pay your mortgage every day. Maybe if you're lucky you've even run across that guy's twin, the manager who inspires confidence and loyalty, that rare person who turns co-workers into teammates. Although it's always easy to tell which is which, it's sometimes hard to figure out why they're so different. What are the good guys doing right, and how can you work their habits into your own relationships with a boss or an employee? According to the experts, here are ten tips.
The relationship between a supervisor and employee starts with who gets tapped to lead the team. As Gallup points out, this is one of the most important decisions a company can make, but it's also one that often goes terribly wrong. The mistake? According to management expert Norman Eckstein, it's often a case of misplaced loyalty. "A lot of times you have people who are supervisors who aren't particularly knowledgeable or skilled in how to deal with people," Eckstein said. "Historically people get promoted to supervisor by doing a good job at whatever they do and not by how well they deal with people." This is called the Peter Principle, or "promotion to incompetence," the idea that employees who do good work will continue to get promoted until they no longer can. Worst of all is when workers get promoted from fields that have nothing to do with interpersonal relationships. An engineer who is fantastic with numbers and wires might fail completely when asked to managing people; they're two different skill sets. A great employee might make a lousy supervisor. "If you go back 50 years companies demoted people," Eckstein said, but not today. "If you got into a position where you couldn't handle it there was no stigma involved in going back to what you were doing before, which works to the company's benefit. [Today] if you promote someone who can't handle it you've lost your best employee, you have a lousy manager and eventually you've lost them completely."
The relationship between a manager and employee is one of the single biggest parts of happiness in today's workplace. It's cited as not only one of the leading causes of employee satisfaction but also one of the leading causes of employee dissatisfaction. The wrong dynamic with a supervisor can not only make someone unhappy, but overtime will eventually drive him right out the door. Too few people appreciate that. "From an employee's perspective, one mistake that I see is underestimating the impact that their boss has on their happiness in their day-to-day life, and the impact that their boss has on their work," said David Grossman, founder of leadership consultancy firm the Grossman Group. "Many leaders that I work with don't see the power and the impact that they can have for good." Keeping a strong relationship with someone means understanding how your decisions effect on them, and vice versa. Employees who write off their bosses as out-of-touch or irrelevant lose out on an important resource for satisfaction on the job and often lay the groundwork for problems they won't even realize they have. By the same token, managers need to understand how much their decisions matter. What can be a small or trivial issue to you might be a big deal for someone on your team, and it's important to pay attention to that.
"One of the mistakes that bosses make is not to share their expectations for what working together looks like," Grossman said. "It's important for employees and bosses to sit down and talk about mutual expectations." On many different levels, communication is essential to successful relationships in the workplace, and shared expectations are a part of that. According to Grossman, a common complaint from unhappy employees is that they don't fully understand what their managers expect from them. That's a solution that has to start at the top; as the boss, you need to be clear about what you want and actively create opportunities for employees to ask questions. Moreover, a manager needs to give active, useful feedback. "Good bosses, they articulate their expectations of the people that work for them," Grossman said. "[They] regularly share their feedback, both of their expectations and of the ways that their staff could be better." People need to know where they stand and how they can improve. Otherwise you simply lay the groundwork for simmering dissatisfaction on both ends of the relationship: bosses who are unhappy with performance and employees who don't know how change that.
When I worked at a law firm, the number one complaint among my fellow associates was that our work ate up any and all of our time. We were on call. While some people expect that in their careers, such as doctors and lawyers, most of us expect some boundaries around our time. One of the quickest ways to sour the relationship with your employees is to abuse those boundaries. This isn't to say you should never ask employees to work late; that's not the way the world works. Sometimes a job needs to be done and most people will understand that, as long as you're asking for a job that actually does need to be done. Respect the fact that asking employees to work after hours is an extraordinary request and save it for extraordinary circumstances. What's more, avoid falling into the parent trap. Today's family-friendly workplaces are a long overdue part of the landscape, and more and more employers cut overworked parents some slack. This is a terrific development, but don't take it out on your childless employees. Just because someone doesn't have kids, doesn't mean that he doesn't value his time, and you'll quickly breed resentment by implying that you don't. Tickets to the theater, plans with friends, even a night with a good book--those plans mattered to the guy who's logged in at 9 p.m. Don't make someone defend his life outside of work; your employees won't be happy if they're always covering for the other half of the office. Ask for hours outside the office when you need it, but make sure you actually need it. And play fair.
"A mistake employees make is to not realize that they need to take control of their careers," Grossman said. "It's easy to look around and blame others and a work environment. It's harder to hold a mirror up and say, you know, I'm not happy with a job, with a work environment." Owning your own career comes in many forms, but ultimately the most important part is recognizing that you, ultimately, are responsible for your own success and failures. According to the experts, this is a mistake they see a lot, as employees often have a hard time recognizing their own role in the process. Although a good manager is important to success in the workplace, it's equally important for an employee to be clear about what they want and need out of that relationship. Even the best boss in the world can't help you if he doesn't know what's wrong. It's also important to be able to recognize when you, as an employee, might be part of the problem. Do a supervisor's demands seem unreasonable, because the person is asking too much, or do you need to show more flexibility? Are you upset, because the person failed to manage his team effectively, or do you just not get along with the person the next desk over? Many times solutions to a problem start at home, and a little introspection can go a long way, which leads us to...
An important part of job satisfaction is not only taking pride in your accomplishments but also in staking out goals for the future. A good manager helps her team not only to achieve their objectives, but also to turn them into long term building blocks. "There are companies that do a lot of mentoring, they have a support process to help people move into different positions," Eckstein said. "Many [people] just pick up good skills from good managers that they've worked for, or know not to repeat the skills of bad managers." Helping an employee feel a sense of progress in their career is an important part of job satisfaction, and the experts agree that it's important for a good manager to pay attention to this. Schedule a meeting to discuss your staff members' goals and how you can help them get there. Figure out what they want and why they came to work for you, and you'll not only help them make progress in their career, but might even learn something about how best to use them in their current position. Sometimes just taking an interest or showing that the door is open is enough to make someone feel more valued in his day-to-day work. Just as importantly, working for the future is a powerful motivating tool. An employee who's grinding away the hours will do just that. Someone who feels like he'sbuilding value not just for the company but for himself is likely to be a lot more motivated and a lot happier at work.
Sometimes we make the worst mistakes with the best intentions. This is one of those times. It's easy for a manager just to plunge ahead and solve problems without thinking anything of it. After all, that's what he was hired to do. Unfortunately, this also means missing a very real opportunity to build relationships with the team. "Employees are almost always very excited and receptive when they're being asked their opinion," Grossman said. "People like to be part of coming up with the solutions, and employees often have fantastic ideas about how to solve challenges in the workplace." Eckstein agreed, saying that it's important to "respect and value" employees' opinions and to make sure they know that you do. Talk to them, ask questions and invite feedback on the challenges you're facing as a manager. Don't forget, you hired them for a reason. These are talented, smart people who know their jobs very well. When it's time to solve a problem or come up with new ideas, don't neglect the pool of expertise right at your fingertips. It makes people feel valued, and you might just discover some great solutions that you never even thought of.
It's not enough to know how to avoid problems in the workplace; you also need to figure out how to fix them. Any time a group of people gets together conflict is inevitable, so knowing how to address it is key. For a manager, it's relatively easy to communicate displeasure. For an employee, however, it's a lot more difficult. Still, according to Grossman, difficult or not, it's important for that conversation to happen, and a good manager will make it as easy as possible. When an employee has a problem with his employer, Grossman said, he should "approach their boss and talk about the situation in a direct way." Grossman thinks that employees talk to a lot of other people about the situation and not those who can actually resolve it. "I always recommend trying the direct approach when possible," he said. As an employee, it's important to remember that this person will be in your life whether you like him or not. It's best to resolve any difficulties up front and in the open; you might not get what you want, but it's better than sitting and stewing about a problem. As a manager you should understand what a difficult situation that is for an employee. Confronting someone in authority is extremely uncomfortable. Recognize that and listen empathetically to whatever the person has to say. Whether or not you can actually fix the problem, it often helps simply to have the conversation.
E-mail is at once the best and worst thing to ever happen to the American workplace. The ability to get in touch with people and share documents instantly is nothing short of miraculous. On the other hand, every layer of technology between you and the other person is another chance for communication to break down. An important part of keeping strong relationships between an employer and employee is to strip away those layers. Talk on the phone or, even better, face to face, as much as possible. "More often than not a communication that's closer to face to face is [better], where you can have some dialogue," Grossman said. "E-mail is so far away from communication in many cases because when you get an e-mail or when a boss sends it out, you don't know--did folks read it, id they even get it?" Too many bosses rely on and hide behind email instead of having conversations that can clear up uncertainties and assuage conflicts. To be sure e-mail brings a lot of convenience to our busy lives, but that tends to come at a cost. With tone, context and body language stripped away, misunderstandings become incredibly common. Anyone who's been part of a fight over e-mail or text messages knows how very easy for someone to read things that you never intended to write. The best way to address this problem is to cut it off at the source and simply sit down with someone and have a conversation.
Sometimes the best way for people to understand what you're thinking is just to explain it. One of the single greatest drivers of conflict in the workplace is when an employee doesn't understand what his manager is doing or why. Lack of information can breed resentment and employees who don't understand decisions will often come up with their own worst case scenarios, especially when that decision is already unpopular. "The reality is that when a boss is not communicating effectively people fill in the blanks and they come up with their own meaning, and usually what they come up with is much worse [than the reality]," Grossman said. "There's the information vacuum that always fills." The solution is communication. When you've made a decision, explain it to your team, or be sure they know that your door is open for any questions. Share your motivations and intentions and stay open to feedback along the way. "Especially in today's work environment where in so many cases there's so much change going on, there's a need to be communicating more frequently with employees," Grossman said. "So a smart boss has regular communication opportunities to talk with their team... savvy bosses have a cadence of communication, so that they know that they regularly have touch points and communication with their core audience." Maybe you can't always make people happy, but you can at least make them feel informed and heard. A lot of the time, that's what's really missing in the first place. Eric Reed is a freelance journalist who writes frequently on the subjects of career and travel. You can read more of his work at his website www.wanderinglawyer.com.