The management blues
Life from the top can be tough as well as lonely
By Debra Bela
You get the VIP car park and the six-figure salary, but life can still suck when you reach the top.
The boss’s door slams. Blinds are shut. Seismic activity in the office makes the coffee machine start to rattle.
It’s another action-packed day in the life of an Australian office manager facing increasing pressure from the national labour shortage.
Employee gripes have been in vogue for years, but now it’s time for managers to spit the dummy.
A new survey of Australian and overseas managers has found a large number don’t like their staff, they don’t like the company they work for, and they don’t think they’re particularly good at their job.
Sydney-based management consultant James Adonis surveyed 250 managers from public and private companies and found one in five do not like, respect or enjoy working with their employees. About 40 per cent don’t believe they are good managers and don’t think they’re working for an employer of choice.
Davidson Recruitment CEO Rob Davidson says the nationwide skills shortage is increasing management workloads and forcing dedicated managers to put their staff second.
"Good leaders need the time to invest in their people. That is part of their job, to see how you’re travelling. That’s actually work," Davidson says.
"Too may companies load their managers up with too much work. You can’t have a full technical workload and also find time to manage and lead.
"When you overload managers and leaders, you overload their capacity to interpret what’s going on around them and they cease to become aware of the mood of the group.
"Then they become insular and narrow in their focus. When you’re in that relaxed, comfortable space in your work, you know when someone’s having an issue."
The skills shortage is also forcing company executives to promote younger managers to positions they may not have the maturity for.
"Junior managers are starting to come through," Davidson says.
"The general manager for the whole of Australia in one large company I know is just 28 years of age. People are being promoted much earlier, when they may not have the life experience necessary."
James Adonis says companies need to change their mindset in the appointment of managers to their company, particularly when promoting from within.
"Some people push for a management role because of the title, the salary, the prestige and power,” he says. "Not one of those things is a reason to be a manager. You need to want to see people grow, and be happy and achieve their goals at work.
"Sometimes the worst performer on the floor is someone who has the potential to be the best manager. It’s usually the second-best performer who becomes manager."
Training institutions are responding to the notion of quick promotion for management by introducing specialist training programs to help managers cope with stress and build emotional intelligence.
Caroline Barker, Australian Institute of Management Queensland chief executive, says even five years ago future managers were incubated within an organisation.
"There are more meaningful course interventions for young managers now. Young managers can mean being young in age with responsibilities thrust upon them, or it could mean young in terms of never having been a manager before," Barker says.
There has been a surge in enrolments in AIM’s new supervisor course, a result of people in the workforce taking on more managerial duties.
"Business is telling educators that there is a pressing need," she says. "It’s a need for total immersion and case study-driven education, and we are responding to that."
Mark Phillips, of Brisbane management consultant firm McDonnell-Phillips, set personal benchmarks during his 15 years as a manager in the infrastructure industry.
"You need to be productive but with a quality of life," he says, "and that means that perhaps you place a little more emphasis on people and what they do than you do on numbers."
But that doesn’t mean setting up office bootcamps to force the hand of friendship.
"As management consultants we sometimes include that as part of a change management process, but it’s more natural than the structured team building activities you hear about," Phillips says.
"The boss might have a fortnightly barbecue with a few drinks and in some of the trades they’ll have a slab of beer every so often with their staff."
Davidson says the missing link in leadership management around the Western world is the need for managers to make people happy.
Because one in five managers admit to having trouble even liking their employees, Davidson recommends investing in a course of management coaching to open the lines of communication between managers and their greatest asset.
"I would say 80 per cent of a manager’s success is based on the quality of the team," he says.
"You have to have good people underneath you. You can’t turn a duck into an eagle.
"But you also have to remember that you and I would not invest in an organisation with bad leadership and management. Your money is not safe. Invest in the quality of the leaders."
Good command of leadership issues
What your boss thinks
How many of your employees do you like, respect and enjoy working with?
None — 1 per cent
A few — 20 per cent
Most — 56 per cent
All — 23 per cent
Do you think your company is an employer of choice?
Yes — 57 per cent
No — 41 per cent
No comment — 2 per cent
Do you believe that you are a fantastic manager?
Yes — 54 per cent
No — 39 per cent
No comment — 7 per cent
(Source: James Adonis management consultant newsletter survey of 250 managers, 70 per cent Australian, the other 30 per cent from overseas, predominantly American)
How to improve office relations if you are a boss on the edge
1: One-on-one time. Go up to people one at a time and spend five minutes sitting by their desk, talking. How’s your day going? What challenges are you facing today? Can I make life easier?
2: Goals. Acknowledge up-front that your employees achieving their personal goals is as important as the company goals being achieved.
3: Holidays. Never use a ballot system to assign holidays. Luck should have nothing to do with whether somebody gets annual leave. Communicate in advance and be up-front. Explain the business requirements and the impact on customers and then say as a result you can have, say, three people off and if you had Christmas off last year you might not get it this year.
4: Overtime. Employees are OK to sacrifice their weekend here or there but only do so for a manager and a company they feel totally respects their needs and gives back to them. Extra money is not enough. Sweeteners could include a day off during the week; free breakfast, lunch and dinner; movie tickets; and respect.
5: Friendship. Don’t step away from being a friend if you are promoted from the office floor to a management position. Being dictatorial and distant from the team will translate to being egotistical and scary to those who now work for you.
Websites to help build manager confidence