Read any articles about struggling employees, companies or retention and you’ll soon find that whatever the issue is, and I do mean whatever, the answer is to blame the manager.
Retention issues? It’s the manager’s fault.
Productivity problems? Blame the manager.
Engagement dipping? Someone get management in here!
Can this really be true? After all, many of these problems have roots in giant, macro issues. The economy, changing workforce dynamics, an always-on mentality spurred on by technology advances. It’s sort of simplistic to blame the manager, isn’t it?
After reading through an article this morning on NPR about lazy workers and how they serve a purpose within the workforce, I was struck by two things. First, the passive aggressive language the author chose to use “if they can be spurred on” and “if it’s possible they can be motivated”… and second, the comments section, which you guessed it… blamed the managers.
And that was it. That was the last and final straw for me. As a manager myself, it’s possible that I feel a little attacked, a little defensive at this all-out war on managers. After all, if the job is so reviled and the people in it so incompetent, why does it exist at ALL?
Becoming a manager is something that used to be sought after. Your father or grandfather was probably pretty excited to “move up into management.” At the wise old age of 36, even the moment I started my career (not SO very long ago), I knew that management was the brass ring, something to aspire to. It was a reward and a recognition of something good. Sure, we had terms like micromanagement, and Office Space was already gaining a cult following… there were some bad apples, stereotypes that cartoons like Dilbert, shows like Seinfeld, and comedians used as fodder for laughs. So… when did stereotypes turn into reality?
It could be, that this… is bullshit.
Managers, for better or worse, are trying to do your job as well as theirs. Managers are attempting to constantly toe the line between the executive suite and how they are perceived in the workforce. Managers must answer when YOU mess up and when they do as well.
I guess what I am trying to say is that managing is hard. Employees often see work issues in terms of their own focus. Their issues seem surmountable and easy to address, because they are the issues of ONE person. From a manager’s perspective, those issues are multiplied by the number of people they are managing. Management has become one of the most stressful jobs in the workforce because while management is often a monumental shift for the manager, no one realizes it!
So, this is my love letter to managers. My “atta boy” and “atta girl” to those blamed for everything from a lack of snacks in the workplace to why you can’t have “just one extra week off.” The “jerk” who won’t let you schedule your two week European tour at the same time as your colleague’s Iron Man competition (because you both work on the same team and it would obliterate your teammates). The next time someone forwards you a snotty Vox story or sends you an employee engagement missive filled with things YOU could be doing better, feel free to forward this to them.
If you are unhappy in your position, it’s not your manager’s fault. Recruiters, executives, teammates and more make these decisions. While managers have some say in succession planning and placement, YOU most likely applied for the position and your manager just needs someone to do it!
If you don’t want to complete the work assigned to you, it is not your manager’s fault. Whether from clients, market demand or from the fabled “upstairs,” orders come from somewhere and chances are your manager didn’t make them up to irritate you.
If you are naturally a lazy person, it is not your manager’s fault. Work is not always easy. If you’re lucky enough to find a job you’re good at and that you enjoy sometimes, work hard to keep it.
If your teammate is a dick, it is not your manager’s fault. Obviously, you want your manager to help you interact with this person, but life sometimes involves confrontation. It’s not like your manager has a magic wand that can make someone go away. Firing a person or even transferring them takes an amount of meetings, paperwork and pull that you’ve likely never considered.
If you don’t get paid enough, it is not your manager’s fault. Either the market doesn’t support that wage, or it would set a precedent they can’t afford, or they simply don’t have the authority to give you anymore. Either way, stop blaming them.
If you got a better offer somewhere else, it is not your manager’s fault if you decide to take it. So many people discuss why they leave their managers when offered another job, that it’s rare to hear someone recognize they actually owe much of their marketability to their manager. This is especially true in entry-level situations.
If you get assigned more work, it is rarely your manager’s fault. The work is there and it needs to get done. It would be so awesome if every job were fun and games all the time but if you’ve been assigned more work, chances are, so has your manager.
While it’s true that many, many… actually countless surveys cite management as the reason people leave, hate work, aren’t engaged and aren’t as productive as they’d like, I think (and I have no basis for this) this could be part of a blame culture that has slowly seeped into our workforce over the past couple of decades. Whether we’re blaming millennials for the faster pace and fancy ROWE perks, or blaming executives for the glaring inequality between them and us, or blaming managers for every issue in the workforce, very few seem to be stepping up to take personal accountability.
Next time you are tempted to blame a manager for issues at work (whether you report to the manager or they report to you) consider what YOU could do to change the situation.
Unhappy in your role? Consider creating a side project for something you see needs to be fixed. Work on it when you can and when completed, show your manager. If they are really a bad manager, they’ll ignore it.
Don’t love the work assigned to you? Get it done faster and take on extra until you’ve proven you can handle different and better assignments. Even if it doesn’t change your current position, it will create a broader portfolio and more impressive resume for your next job search.
Naturally lazy? Plot your productive time for a week or two to determine when you are most likely to accomplish tasks more quickly. Ask one colleague each week how you can help them, which will change your reputation and help keep you accountable to get tasks completed.
Got a difficult teammate? Learn to confront them on totally unacceptable behavior (sexism, racism, harassment) and work around the other stuff (passive aggressiveness, bragging, too talkative). Confrontation skills are vastly underrated in the workforce today because very few want to be seen as impolite but if you learn to do it right, you can handle future problems that fall below the unacceptable line, on your own.
Not paid enough? Try doing some research. If you think you deserve a higher salary, research what those in your field (at your level) are getting paid. Then, figure out what else you can take on to get to that level. Research shows that even those who are paid above market value think they are paid below it.
While it’s true that managers can be jerks and there are more bad apples than good, this is it. This is where I draw the line in the sand. It is time for some equity in the accountability around what plagues the workforce and it ain’t just managers.