December 8, 2010 | File under: Advice and Lessons • On the Job
Many of the people I know who have experienced burnout in their careers attribute their dissatisfaction as much to unpleasant people as to unfulfilling work. And most of the time, the people who present the greatest challenges to work with are supervisors who exhibit extremely poor managerial skills. Few professionals who hold supervisory power over others are actually trained in management. And even those who are often fall short in adhering to the rules of basic human respect that should be common sense to anyone having passed through kindergarten. I’m not sure what sort of people skills are taught in management courses, but having myself experienced the burnout that comes from dealing with inconsiderate people, I can offer a few reflections on the common-sense behaviors that should be mandatory for any manager.
Treat others as you would like to be treated. The very basic of the kindergarten skills. I’m not sure why this one is so often overlooked because it is truly the easiest to comprehend. Just a moment’s pause before taking out one’s stress or frustration on others in order to consider how such behavior would impact that person’s morale can do wonders in many circumstances.
Provide criticism that is constructive and instructive. While criticism is often necessary to elicit better performance, there is a clear difference between providing tips for improving someone’s work and telling someone they totally suck. Not only will the latter approach cause one to feel completely defeated and unmotivated to do better work in the future, it also fails to address problems in one’s work that could be avoided in the future.
Choose your words carefully. Interjecting the F-word in every other sentence in order to make a point really undermines your message. The same goes for emails that are delivered in all caps as if the recipient would be unable to read the message were it written using normal word case. The shock value of passive-aggressive practices such as these usually overwhelm what could be a well-intended and useful underlying message. From my own experience, receiving an email marked high priority and written in all caps will trigger my fight-or-flight response regardless of the content of the email.
Never resort to physical violence. Does this really even need to be said? Unfortunately, I have heard countless stories of supervisors slamming desks, throwing objects across the room, and kicking open doors that I’m afraid there are too many supervisors out there that have not progressed beyond two-year-old temper tantrums. Violence is never the answer.
Mind your manners. This lesson somewhat overlaps the others, but reaches further to matters of basic etiquette. For instance, when I am on a business phone call, it is completely rude to burst into my office and demand my attention. In addition, if you’re going to yell at me and tell me how much I suck (already violating lesson numbers 1, 2 and 3), please at least do it in private and not in front of other colleagues or clients for maximum embarrassment. The same goes for emails: please have the decency not to copy a million other people on those emails that call out my mistakes.
Realize the world does not revolve around you. How many times have you wanted to say to a supervisor, “remember I have a life too?” Granted, many people are paid exorbitant salaries to essentially provide on-call service to their employers, or such may be the nature of their work. But absent such conditions, supervisors should have some respect for their employee’s time outside of work and personal and family obligations. While there may be an occasional emergency that requires people to sacrifice their entire weekend or work until three in the morning, discretion requires that a manager differentiate between truly urgent matters and matters that could be reserved for normal working hours. It is also important to use normal working hours efficiently to avoid the need for overtime work. Putting off assigning work until 6 pm in spite of the fact that the work could have been undertaken earlier in the day is not a tactic that earns the respect or sympathy of your employees. Burnout is an inevitable consequence when supervisors disrespect the work/life balance.
So, there you have it: managerial advice from the perspective of someone who has been on the receiving end of bad management. I can tell you that one need not be skilled in management curriculum to understand the basic principles of treating others with respect. Those lessons are ones of basic common sense and courtesy. Unfortunately, many managers today have failed to incorporate even basic, common-sense people skills in their management practice, and the consequence is often burnout and attrition among employees in inferior ranks. Sadly, the problem is apt to continue without abatement unless employers truly take pause to consider the cause of low employee morale and are willing to take steps to correct the behavior of those at the top of the hierarchy.