At one of my past jobs, a lot of my coworkers didn’t like our boss. I wasn’t sure why; I thought he was really nice, and he and I got along great. But there were almost constant whispered complaints in the breakroom and the halls. People felt sure he was being unfair to us, and not giving us enough pay for our hard work. They felt unappreciated. They said he didn’t care about any of us. It was all confusing because I felt bad for him, but I started wondering if there might be any truth to what they were saying since it seemed like everyone knew about it. One day I left the room I’d been working in and started down the hall toward the breakroom, and I saw my boss in front of the breakroom door, leaning one ear towards it. I knew right away that he was listening to what my coworkers in the breakroom were saying, and I knew that what he was hearing wouldn’t be kind. He turned and saw that I’d caught him in the moment, and I’ll always remember his expression. He was startled and embarrassed, but he didn’t reveal that before I saw how discouraged he looked.
I never knew what to do about any of it, or if there was anything I could have done, but I always felt bad for everyone there. I wished things could be better for both my coworkers and my boss. I’m thinking a lot about that today, after a question I asked my friends. I asked them what one thing would improve their experience at work, and their answers were overwhelmingly in the same theme.
So today we’re going to talk about how you as an HR professional can improve each employee’s experience by improving the relationship with his/her direct supervisor. It feels a little daunting. At first, I wondered if there could be a way when our authority and ability to change things varies so much, and when so many things are out of our control. But I was so happy to find some great answers and advice.
I’ve got five things you can do, and the best news is that no matter how fantastic your managers and supervisors already are, these will help them even more:
1. GIVE CONTINUOUS TRAINING TO MANAGERS
Sometimes I wonder if maybe the boss I told you about just wasn’t sure how to manage his stress, fears, and insecurities, and if maybe that made him easily misunderstood and mistrusted.
One of my friends said that “calm and rational management” is important to her, so make sure your managers know what to do in situations involving lowered performance. Help them to overcome bad habits like micromanaging and criticizing, and help them to prioritize their own self-care and wellness so they can get through the tough days without losing control of themselves.
Give them training so they’ll be better at communicating expectations clearly with employees, because “having your boss tell you what they need done instead of you guessing,” was something important to another of my friends, and it’s also a crucial factor in whether managers get the results they want.
Help them to understand the importance of continually training and developing their team’s skills, because “working in a place that helps me to grow” was another answer I was given and will make each person give even more value to their boss and company.
Help managers and supervisors clearly communicate benefits and positive policies to the members of their team, so everyone will understand the great things that are already in place for them.
Give them training on how to show respect for people. Help them learn how to work with varied personalities, generations, and cultures, and how to allow for different opinions and ideas. Help them learn to listen with the intent to understand.
Give them training on how to develop confidence, how to deal with criticism, how to have difficult conversations, how to be assertive, and how to manage stress.
Help managers and supervisors learn how to look out for the well-being of their employees, and how to recognize signs that someone may be in a difficult or threatening situation at work or home. Train them to be consistent, and follow through on policies and procedures. As another friend pointed out:
“It would make a huge difference to have a manager that holds everyone accountable to the standards they set forth, instead of being all talk and allowing substandard results.”
All these things are just skills, and they don’t come naturally for a lot of people, but they can all be learned. I loved this quote I found in the article, “Transform Your Company Culture to Boost Employee Engagement”
“Every employee wants to feel like he or she is contributing to the success of the organization. They can only contribute to the success of the organization if they grow personally and professionally.”
I really feel for the person who finds themselves suddenly responsible for multiple people’s results. How much pressure that must be! Without enough training, most of us wouldn’t handle it very well. With enough time in the trenches, bad habits might take hold, and a great person who is well-liked outside of work could become very tough to work for. But anyone can change, and any skill can be learned, and I think if training and supporting managers become more of a priority, yours will blossom.
This will help them to be more effective and more of a positive influence for employees. One of the critical things we all need to truly thrive and be happy is progression. We all need to continuously grow and improve, and we need to know that we matter. I think this one step will make such a difference, and give your managers improved skills, confidence, engagement, and happiness. How could that not positively affect their interactions with and influence on the employees they lead? It’s such a win-win!
2. HELP MANAGERS CARE FOR TEAM MEMBERS
“Feeling like your boss values you and the job you are asked to do,” was the response I got from another friend. I know every one of us can relate to wanting that, and I can’t help but think that sometimes in the rush and stress of trying to get it all done, it might be easy to miss the signs when the people making things happen feel overlooked and underappreciated.
There’s so much to do, and never enough time, but encourage each manager to do this anyway because I think it will make such a difference. Encourage them to think about each member of their team, and write down how each person contributes to that manager’s goals, objectives, and experience at work.
Help them to make it their mission to look for the good in everyone, and express their appreciation often. Another friend answered,
“Recognition from management. Just a simple, ‘great job,’ goes a long way for morale.”
And since that’s the case, send your managers on a constant treasure hunt for good deeds, high-quality work, people coming through, and help them get into the habit of letting everyone know they’ve noticed.Encourage them to take some time each day to write down at least one thing that they appreciate about their team, and to read it regularly so they can be full of gratitude for everyone there and get through the bad days easier.
Encourage them to get to know the people they work with, so they’ll have a better understanding of each person’s personality, situation, challenges, interests, and goals. Help them learn how each person is motivated, what each person cares about, and what each person is good at. Help them to learn each person’s other strengths and talents, and give them ideas for letting those shine. Encourage them to regularly ask how each person is doing and what they need.
“Having a manager who asks, ‘Is there anything I can do to make your job better?’ and then follows through with your request,” was something another friend told me, and I can see where it might feel like a scary question to ask. But I think it’s wonderful to ask it anyway, and so important. You can help managers to understand how to address the answers they’re given so that everyone feels valued and heard, even if they don’t get exactly what they wanted.
If your managers really know the people they work with, they won’t be able to help but care, and it will help them learn how to lead each person in the most effective way. If a manager truly cares, it will show in their interactions with everyone, and it will make your company a place where people feel valued.
And speaking of feeling valued, the first thing you might want to do for this step is to make sure your managers feel valued and cared for. We all know the saying about not being able to pour from an empty cup, so you’ll want to make sure your managers’ are running over with love to spare.
- Give support to them.
- Be there for and care about them.
- Ask them how they’re doing and what they need.
- Back them up when they make good decisions.
- Show them you trust them to do the right thing.
- Encourage them to look after their own health, well-being, interests, happiness, and goals.
Just like your first step with training, these things just can’t help but make a positive difference for both the managers and the employees. You’ll keep it going with the next part:
3. SHOW THAT YOU CARE
HR can be discouraging. I’m sure you went into it with exciting ideas about how you’d help people, and improve things in the workplace, and be a champion for your coworkers. It seems like a great place to be; right where you can work with everyone and make good changes. However, the reality is that HR doesn’t always have a fantastic reputation! Being in the middle isn’t always fun, and no matter how much you give it’s not always noticed.
So on the days when your hands are tied, you don’t feel effective, and you can’t give the news anyone wants, it’s so easy to feel defeated. There’s a lot out of your control, and as you think about this subject in particular and what you might be able to implement so far, there might not be a lot you can do to directly influence each employee’s manager. I think there’s still plenty of things you can do yourself anyway. You can improve each person’s experience despite who their manager is. You are the one to bring whatever positivity and care that you can, and you can start in simple ways and go from there.
- Smile and greet everyone.
- Get to know them.
- Be happy to see them.
- Ask how they’re doing.
- Really listen to their answers.
- Follow up later.
Go to where they work so you can understand what their days are like, and see what resources they have or need. Ask them questions about what would help them in their role.
Help employees feel heard by addressing their desires and concerns – even when you aren’t giving them the answer they want. Help them to understand the reasons behind certain policies and procedures, and find ways to make those clearer.
Express your own appreciation for each person there. Notice the good things they do and thank them. Respect them. Be someone they can trust, by keeping what they tell you confidential as much as possible, and by being careful with your wording when you have to bring things to the attention of higher-ups.
Look out for them and watch for signs that someone might need help dealing with or getting out of a difficult or threatening situation at work or home. Watch how they treat each other and make sure the expectation for everyone at every level is to be respectful and kind to each person there. Find ways to cut the red tape and empower employees so that they can work more efficiently, with the tools, permission, and resources they need to do their jobs. Take care of yourself, so you have all of this to give. Make sure you’re doing what you can to pursue your own interests and happiness, and tend to your own health and well-being.
Let everyone know about the positive things that the company (and their boss) is doing, even if you’re sure managers are communicating them too.
There have been so many times in so many jobs, where I’ve heard coworkers complain that certain things weren’t happening – even when I knew that those things were in place and active. I think sometimes people in management just get so busy doing things that they forget to let anyone know about them. This is a rare case where you do not want to let anything good take a humble position and work quietly in the background.
Sometimes it feels like you have to pick sides in HR, but it doesn’t have to be like that. You’re looking out for all of them. Everyone in the company benefits from it, and they’re all on the same side, whether they see it or not. You can make such a positive difference for everyone, and you can do it all at the same time. With that in mind:
4. BE ASSERTIVE TO HIGHER-UPS
Depending on where you work, you may not be called on to get involved in discussions about organizational strategies and direction. But you know that the people in a company actually are its greatest assets, and you also know that a company’s culture is often shaped by the person in the captain’s chair and that an individual employee’s experience is so often influenced by his/her direct manager. For all these reasons, if you aren’t being asked for your input, it is so important to start asserting yourself.
Get yourself ready by making sure you’re familiar with your company’s operations. Get to know the methods, the process, the things your company specializes in, and what sets it apart from the competition. You don’t have to know how to do it all yourself, but know what happens to make it all work. Learn your company’s goals and direction, and think about how the people in the company can get it there.
Think about what improvements could be put in place to help everyone’s performance and growth in the company, and how that would positively impact the ability to reach those strategic goals. Think about everything you’ve learned as you’ve talked with employees, learned what their workdays are like, and gotten to know what kind of support they need in their roles. And think of how you can influence improvements that will make a positive difference for everyone.
Maybe you’ll propose ideas to give everyone in management the training, support, and resources they need, or to give those things to employees in various positions. Or maybe you’ll encourage higher-ups to reward great performers through higher pay, promotions, bonuses, more flexibility, and other benefits.
Maybe you’ll find ways to bring the employees’ concerns, interests, strengths, and goals to the table. Or defend and fight for their rights when needed, and remind leadership that protecting those for everyone is in the company’s best interest. Maybe you’ll encourage actions and company decisions that improve teamwork and collaboration, because Suman Buragohain, Hospitality Industry, told me,
“Group dynamics and a great team. This is one of the most important aspects of any organization.”
If you aren’t getting invited to those meetings, let all the participants know why you should be. The people in the company are what will help it to reach its objectives, so the best way to success will be for you to work with decision-makers and align all your ideas and plans. If you’re nervous to ask for a seat at the table or to make your requests when you get there, I just read a fantastic article that explained why you don’t need to be:
“…You’re not doing something socially inappropriate when you approach someone with a request.
“If it helps you become more assertive, just remind yourself that your managers and supervisors don’t feel bad about asking you to do things. So you shouldn’t feel bad about reciprocating. Every organization has goals that its team members are charged with carrying out. Not asking for what you need hinders those goals. In that sense, withholding your request is probably the most disagreeable thing you can do.”
- Art Markman, “How to be more assertive at work when that’s just not your personality”, Fast Company, accessed 28 June 2020
It makes so much sense for you to be part of those discussions, and more company leaders are realizing that’s true. If your company just hasn’t quite gotten there yet, that’s okay, because you can start now to make yourself more included. It will help you so much with the last part of this:
5. HELP EVERYONE UNDERSTAND THE VISION
Your company has a mission, and all of you are working together on it. You, the employees, their managers, all the senior leadership, and anyone else on any level are all together working on the same thing, and you want to help everyone to feel that.
I think sometimes it’s easy to forget this. I’ve been in so many jobs where I didn’t even know what the company’s mission was. I get the feeling that if people were asked for their company’s mission, most of the answers would be along the lines of, “to make money.”
We all know that each of us is in a company for our own personal reasons. We’re there because it gives us certain things, or at least has the potential to give us certain things over time. And that’s great, and our own reasons for being there can be motivating and can help us keep our performance on high.But what you want to make sure everyone knows thoroughly is what you’re all there working on together. All of your research for the previous step will help with this one, but make sure you know the company’s mission as well as your own face in the mirror so that you can clearly articulate it to anyone at any time.
You can take it further and make it even more effective by understanding each person’s individual values, and by helping them to see how the company’s vision aligns with those. If they know and believe in what they’re working for, they’ll have a better experience no matter who is in charge.
My cousin told me a quote he heard. I don’t know the original source, but it’s too perfect to leave out. He told me:
“’People will work 8 hours for a salary and 12 hours for a great boss. They will work 24/7 for a dream they believe in.’
“You can gain the most from people through connecting work with purpose. Purpose with passion. Passion with a dream. The one thing that will improve employee experience the most is the dream they believe in.”
Back when I worked at that job I told you about in the beginning, I felt so bad for both sides. I felt bad for my boss, and I felt bad for my coworkers, and I didn’t know who was right. But since then I’ve felt bad that it even had to feel like there were sides at all. I’ve seen really good people in leadership positions who I know cared about their employees, who gave everything they could at the time and were still told it wasn’t enough.
I’ve been new and inexperienced in a management position and felt discouraged and incapable. I’ve been in HR positions and felt mistrusted and ineffective, and I’ve been an entry-level employee who wondered if I mattered to my employer. I think in most cases, everyone is doing the best they can.
There don’t have to be different sides or a line in the sand where it’s “us” vs. “them”. It doesn’t have to be that looking out for the employees’ interest is going to hurt the company or vice versa. We’re all in it together and working for the same thing, and I think if we remember that and have patience with and compassion for each other, it will make all the difference for our experience there.
And maybe that really is the secret to it. Because if each person feels that, then they’ll all work better together, and everyone on every level will support and look out for each other, and going to work will feel meaningful and fulfilling.
WRAPPING IT ALL UP
So there’s your plan! You’re going to give continuous training to managers, you’ll help the managers care for each person on their team, you’ll show each employee that you care, you’ll be assertive to higher-ups, and you’ll help everyone to understand the vision.
I can’t wait for you to see how much your experience at work will improve while you work toward this! It won’t be easy and it won’t go well some days, but it will be such a great thing to put your effort into, and even the smallest thing you can do will help your job to be more rewarding.
And thinking about this topic reminded me of something one of my friends told me:
“I spent one summer working for an entrepreneur pressure washing and it was one of the best jobs I ever had because [of] our boss. [He] genuinely cared for all his employees, wanted the best for everyone, and did everything in his power to make sure we were all happy and enjoying our positions.
“When your boss is happy it trickles down and sets the standard for how your day is going to be and creates a thriving environment.” - Allyson LaCour, Singer and Songwriter
Joanie is a part-time employee with a mission to end the Sunday Night Blues and start a new way of working. She uses what she’s learned from her experience to help employees have happiness, fulfillment, and high-performance in their jobs, with a revolutionary approach to goal achievement. Learn more at useyourjob.com/about
Her latest book, As Its People: A 90-Day Challenge, is for employers, managers, team leaders, and HR professionals, and gives actions, strategies, and habits for having motivated, engaged and high-performing employees. It’s available in paperback and Kindle at www.amazon.com/author/joanelmore