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Office Survival 101: How to Work with Your Moody Boss

Employee Engagement Fact:

Our study showed that “Relationship with Immediate Managers” had a more than 70% influence on employee engagement levels and other elements such as “Remuneration and Welfare”, “Personal Development”, and “Company’s Direction” were close behind.

We ask the questions which you have always wanted to ask your moody Bosses.

We asked 6 team managers a few rather intimate questions to get their thoughts on this (don’t try this yourself unless you are currently serving your notice). First, some broad background information on our interviewees:

1) Out of the 6 managers we interviewed, 2 have the title of “Senior Managers” and above.

2) All 6 managers are aged between 34 to 46 years and have been working in their organisations for more than 2 years.

the Boss’ perspective

Ok. Let’s get to the juice.

Q: Why do you think team members would consider leaving if they can’t get along with their supervisors?

A: Well, it is something which a few managers can’t change overnight and if they (the team members) have to report to someone whom they do not agree with, there is no reason why they would stay for the long haul.

Q: Can you think of anyone who may have left the organisation because of you?

A: <pause> No. <pause> But it’s possible. People leave for different reasons. Based on what I know, most of them simply leave when the work becomes too mundane and they would like to graze greener pastures. We conduct our employee engagement survey annually and will take actions on aspects which are not favourable to (employee) engagement.
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Validated with Research: 19 Critical Tips to Survive our Moody Boss.

Q: Could you share with us the aspects which were “not favourable” in your Employee Engagement Survey?

A: They (the attributes) were usually relating to “Remuneration”, “Lack of Development”, “Lack of Flexibility” and “Lack of Recognition”. While there are aspects which we can take action on, not all of them can be resolved that quickly. For instance, there are certain policies or work processes which we can’t exercise flexibility just because a certain percentage of employees are unhappy about it.

Q: Did “Relationship with Supervisor” surface in your findings?

A: Frankly speaking, no. This has not surfaced in our survey as an action area. Maybe there was once when it surfaced but it was quite a number of years ago. There are opportunities which our company creates for team members and team managers to have fun and foster better bonds so I guess these help us to work better as a team .

Q: When you say “has not surfaced as an action”, do you mean that “Relationship with Supervisor” fared positively?

A: We measure around 20 different aspects and “Relationship with Supervisor” was on middle ground (on average) in terms of ratings and hence the focus was placed on other more critical aspects.

Q: Was any analysis done on the relationships among the variables (aspects) or how they interact with each other?

A: No. Our analysis was straightforward. It was based on a 1 to 5 rating scale. Any aspect lower than the average will be an action area.

Q: Are you aware that certain variables may be intercorrelated and hence actions taken on just 1 variable may not necessarily yield a significant improvement in the overall engagement level?

A: <pause> Yes. We have not tried that type of analysis before but it makes sense that there may be correlated attributes which are dependent on each other.

Q: Thinking back, were there recent moments (in the last 3 months) when you have displayed any signs of unhappiness when giving feedback to your team members?

A: Yes, I do give feedback to my team rather frequently. Sometimes I think I would frown and perhaps raise my voice a little too. But I think it is quite natural. When you are upset with something, your emotions will tend show in your tone and facial expressions no matter how hard you try to hide it.

Q: What made you upset with your team member?

A: Actually I can’t really remember the exact details. It has been a couple of months ago. It was along the lines of not following my instructions and hence things didn’t go as planned. I also expected my team member to be able to anticipate and think ahead.

Q: Have you ever received feedback in a similar fashion before?

A: Yes, I have a boss too and I only learn from the best <laughs>. It may be quite sometime ago but yes, most definitely. But I think it is all part of growing in all our careers. You make mistakes, you might get an earful and you just learn from it. I suppose that it will also make you think twice about the piece of work which you are submitting.  

Q: If you had the ability to turn back time, would you have given the feedback to your team member differently?

A: yes, I would probably have taken a few deep breaths first before giving feedback <laughs>.

Q: Why? Did you regret it?

A: Yes of course. I do when I have the time to think about it at night. Younger (in terms of tenure) team members seem to bruise quite easily. I know that they need tender loving care but time is never on our side and I know of a few who have an insatiable need for it.

Q: Why only at night? What time do you usually knock off?

A: Overtime till almost 10pm almost everyday and sometimes still need to “pack” home (bring work home).

Q: Was there anything which your team member could have done differently at that point in time?

A: First, don’t start jumping to your defence the moment we share a comment. It almost feels like as though nothing is going through to them. Second, I don’t expect to keep sharing the same feedback. Sometimes, I take a lot of time and effort to walk through the whole process with my team members but yet they can still get it wrong. The reason? Many rely on pure memory while others who take down notes don’t record effectively. It is frustrating when I could have used the time to finish my own work since it is going to be incorrect anyway. More importantly, when things don’t go the way as planned, think of solutions yourself first instead of always coming up to us for a solution. It would definitely help lighten the situation if my team member could say something like “Sorry, I screwed up but I have thought of 3 solutions which I need to discuss with you.”

There are also times when things get out of hand but my team members do not let me know about it till the eleventh hour. That’s not right at all. My other comment is that a few of my team members give up too easily. They are bruised way too easily. It is unrealistic to expect only positive comments throughout your career. You need to learn that making mistakes is part and parcel and you just need to move on from there. If you get demoralised or simply just give up after making a mistake, you are definitely not going to go very far in your career.

A Few Observations

All 6 managers have had moments when they raised their voices at their team members. While 5 out of the 6 managers regretted their choice of words or actions, only 1 felt that their team members “kind of deserve it”.

Reasons such as “Didn’t follow instructions”, “expected them to have some common sense”, “Didn’t think of ‘filtering’ in the heat of the moment”, “Expected more from them”, “Things didn’t go as planned”, “Possibly lack of communication” surfaced during our conversations as well

By and large, middle managers face pressures from their own workload, organisational structure, team’s performance and even during their own personal time. Time is indeed a scarce resource.

It was noteworthy that all 6 managers have attended some form of training on the management of their emotional intelligence (it could be a good time to assess the quality of the training). The twist however, is that their team members don’t get exposed to this training till much later in their tenure. Considering that the team members’ actions have such a major impact to their managers’ mood, we think that everyone and not just the managers should be on the same page when it comes to managing emotions at work.

19 Key Takeaways for a Team Member

1) When there is a screw-up, don’t “screw it”. Take a deep breath and start with an apology.

2) If the screw-up doesn’t concern you, then “screw it”. Don’t add oil to fire. Help to put out the fire.

3) When you find it a struggle to harmonise your work and life, re-examine your workflow and automate aspects with technology where possible.

4) If you have free time on hand, there isn’t a need for you to “announce” it. Not everyone may be as efficient as you. Make good use of your time to enrich your knowledge like learning a new workplace skill.

5) The best time to share bad news with your boss is when it happens.

6) The worst time to share bad news with your boss is when you spend too much time thinking about when is the best time.

7) Aunt Agony doesn’t work in your team. No one likes to hear just the problems. Present the problem with an assortment of solutions instead of simply relying on your boss for the answers.

8) Try harder if you can’t think of a solution. Nothing can’t be resolved. All it takes is a little ingenuity to come up with a rescue submarine for a flooded cave.

9) You can make mistakes but you must learn from them. No one is perfect. Don’t beat yourself over it. Jack Ma has made more mistakes than you and look at where he is today.

10) If you keep making the same mistake, the steps you took to achieve the desired outcome may not be perfect for you. Rethink those steps.

11) If you have a memory of an elephant, you are awesome! You still need to take down notes during meetings with your boss.

12) If you have a state-of-the-art AI enabled voice recorder that transcribes your meeting notes for you, that’s incredible! You still need to take down notes during your meetings.

13) When your boss claims that a particular comment was not discussed before, it is time to bring out your cool notebook.

14) Don’t jump to your defence immediately when your boss gives you feedback. Listen to what he / she has to say first. A strong defence at the start comes off as egoistic and stubborn.

15) If you can see that your boss is upset but not talking to you about it yet, wait till the next day for the storm to pass before addressing it. You still need to know where did you go wrong to be able to learn from that experience.

16) You have plenty of great ideas and you are not afraid to share them. You’re amazing! Your boss is not going to agree on all of them today but that doesn’t mean he or she won’t tomorrow. Find different settings and present your ideas separately.

17) If all of your ideas are rejected, ask for reasons and suggestions to refine them or change courses. For “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10000 ways that won’t work.” – Thomas Edison.

18) Take the initiative to connect with your boss on a more personal level. You can invite your boss out for a drink or a meal. It doesn’t have to be an official company event for the team to bond with your boss. Make an effort to show an interest in his / her personal life. Work becomes smooth when there is a strong connection within the team.

19) Practise self-motivation. Ultimately, you are working hard today for your own progression; not for anyone else.

Time for Your Say!

People don’t leave a job, they leave their managers. What type of boss do you enjoying working with the most? Take a couple of minutes to share your heartfelt comments and your tips with like-minded employees.

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