As a recruitment agency, we hear about countless poor managers from candidates. So it comes as no surprise that bad managers are often the driving force behind employees becoming applicants. In fact, recognizing the signs of a poor manager as fast as possible is crucial to career success.
This means that, as you work for (and consider working for) various employers throughout your career, it is helpful to discern the signs of a poor manager. Doing so can help shape your career’s trajectory as you will likely stay in the orbit of good management longer than you would bad management.
There are two simple measuring sticks for managers: how do they behave, and how do their employees respond to them? Use the following tips to evaluate the effects of a bad manager in your office — or (ideally) avoid one altogether.
Signs of Poor Management that the Boss Displays
They offer criticism, never support.
If the majority of employee/manager interactions center primarily around criticism, work culture will suffer. For example, the IBM Smarter Workforce Institute found that 83% of employees who receive recognition for their success report a positive work experience — more than double that of those without recognition. While feedback can be helpful, criticism alone is not enough for effective management.
They are not solution-oriented.
A good manager knows that mistakes, problems, and unforeseen hurdles are inevitable. But if a manager cannot move past them and create solutions, there is a problem. If they are consistently fixated on mistakes, their ability to remedy the situation will suffer and can hinder the business’s strategic goals. Moreover, a boss focused only on mistakes will likely be more frustrated in the workplace than one concentrated on finding solutions.
By definition, a manager is responsible for making a department’s decisions. If they cannot make these efficiently, then the performance of the business unit is likely to suffer. Projects can suddenly reverse course, wasting previous effort and frustrating employees. Additionally, indecision may lower the business’s reputation and credibility.
As Monster.com makes clear in their article on handling a boss who yells, “There comes a point — sooner rather than later, if it’s a regular enough occurrence — when a screamer of a supervisor just isn’t worth putting up with.”
Yelling symbolizes more comprehensive faults in the manager’s style than just abrasive communication. A good manager can achieve a lot without saying anything. The loudest managers likely lack the respect needed to lead and the confidence to be silent.
Looking to the Employees for Signs of Poor Management
It is not always possible to judge a manager directly. Getting face time with the manager can be challenging, especially at large companies or when just beginning a new job. If this is the case, look to the employees.
The way employees behave, especially if the manager has been in their position for a long time, can be a great indicator of whether the manager has created a healthy work culture.
Unlike direct analysis of the employer, these considerations are not as blatant as the behavior described above. While managers directly control whether they yell, they could have less control over things like turnover. Therefore, when considering the employee’s signals, look for repeated occurrences or more than one of the issues listed below.
Employees who are generally uninterested in doing their job, let alone doing the job well, can imply lousy management. Maybe the manager makes poor onboarding choices, fails to instill respect and a shared sense of purpose in the team, or perhaps they cannot pay enough to keep the best talent around. Whatever the reason, this is likely a workplace to avoid, if for no other reason than to not get dragged down to a lower performance than you are capable of.
When employees do not stay very long or many employees quit at once, management is likely to be partially responsible. If there is a history of most employees staying with a company just long enough to secure a better opportunity, management is likely not doing enough to retain talent.
If enough people say it, does it make it true? When multiple employees are telling you similar reasons for disliking or disrespecting the manager, it is solid evidence that employer/employee communication has broken down. Responsibility to address this void lies solely on the manager.
How employees can respond to poor managers
Quitting can be hard and is not always an option. If quitting is not yet on the table, the Harvard Business Review recommends two strategies:
“Forget giving feedback. Make requests instead.”
HBR says avoid criticizing your boss and identifying their failings. Instead, “Be specific about the resources and support you need to do your job, explain your rationale, and articulate how this will benefit them and the organization.”
The theory is that focusing on explicit requests for the resources needed to do your job well will mitigate any damage to your performance that might hinder making a career change later. This way, when/if you start seeking a new job, you will still have your track record of performance to use in the interview. And you avoid the added frustration of spinning your wheels at work.
“Explore other opportunities within your organization.”
If the company has other departments and managers, or even positions that have less direct oversight with your manager, begin exploring those. Focus on areas where your skills would translate and start preparing to transition. This is an excellent method of avoiding a bad manager with minimal risk to your career.
If it comes to quitting, leave with as much grace as you can muster and find something else. Check out Maximizing Your Job search to familiarize yourself with using a recruiter — as they are one of the best ways to guide a successful mid-career job change.
Become a better leader.
If you are a manager looking to improve your leadership skills, there are two straightforward steps to consider.
Two Harvard researchers found in their study that when employees who are comfortable in their job take 15 minutes to reflect on their work each day, their performance increases 23% relative to the control group. This is because once people become comfortable in the routine of their position, additional experience yields decreasing productivity returns. Once you are comfortable in your duties, additional practice becomes less important to productivity than it was initially.
Instead, reflection enhances your cognitive and emotional understanding of your methods. Developing this mindfulness at work can also make a struggling manager become more decisive, responsive, and perceptive.
If a manager has failed to identify and reconcile their company’s values and objectives with those of its employees, one solution is increasing the frequency of employee check-ins. For example, moving to weekly points of connection that complement the traditional annual or bi-annual evaluations.
A Gallup poll supports this claim: “when managers provide weekly” as opposed to annual feedback, employees are:
- 3x more likely to strongly agree they are motivated to do outstanding work.
- And nearly 3x more likely to be engaged at work.
This strategy can go a long way to boost any manager’s impact.
Learning to navigate weak management and improve company culture where possible is a skill that every professional should learn. Moreover, it is an ability that tends to get noticed by peers and management. Sharpening the soft skills listed here will build self-awareness and enhance your influence in the workplace, and can make a difficult boss more manageable.
These tips are just the beginning when it comes to workplace and career advice. Check out the Pinnacle blog for a variety of information.
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