Losing talent? Maybe you’re a bad boss

Singapore Business Review
Published: 5 Jan 15
By Ronald Lee, Managing Director, PrimeStaff Management Services

In the movie Horrible Bosses, three friends suffer at the hands of overbearing and abusive superiors to the point that they hatch a plot to murder their respective bosses. While this is of course an extreme consequence dramatised for Hollywood, I am sure there are many employees out there who may fantasise about retaliating in similar fashion.

It is common knowledge in the world of business and management that people join companies but they leave managers. Yet, many organisations continue to be staffed with lousy supervisors that drive talented employees away.

Last November, a report found that the typical Singaporean employee is “Under Happy” at work. The survey by Singapore Human Resources Institute (SHRI) and a consulting firm polled more than 5,000 Singaporeans and found their average score to be 59 out of 100 in a workplace happiness index. This is deemed “Under Happy” whereas a score of 0 to 50 is considered “Unhappy”, and 68 to 100 is “Happy”.

While many factors contribute to a person’s happiness in the workplace, a bad boss is all too often the main culprit behind a disgruntled employee.

Bad bosses are ruining workplaces, chasing away good talent, and just terribly bad for business. The direct costs of a bad boss are numerous: loss of money and productivity due to employees taking fake sick leave to avoid dealing with the boss, idling because employees are simply unmotivated, and even purposely making mistakes out of spite. Don’t forget additional recruitment costs owing to high staff turnover.

Unfortunately, this is one problem that you can’t just throw money at. The statistics speak for themselves: according to recent research compiled by Officevibe, 65% of employees would rather get a new boss than receive a pay rise. Three out of four employees also fingered their boss as the worst and most stressful part of their job. While these statistics are US-centric, I believe the results of a similar survey in Singapore would not deviate too far.

Bosses, on the other hand, would just as quickly point the finger back at employees and bemoan their bad attitudes, which can, admittedly, be a very real source of frustration for managers at times.

But from an organisational standpoint, it is much more constructive – and cost-effective – to help managers improve their skills than to change an employee’s bad attitude, short of firing them.

The biggest mistake organisations often make is promoting people into manager roles who are high performing individuals, but poor managers.

Some people are born leaders but most simply aren’t. When a person transitions to a supervisory role, proper leadership training is imperative. The newly minted manager needs to be equipped with core leadership skills, without which the probability of succeeding in the new role is low.

If there is no budget for such training, here are some simple but highly effective ways to be a better boss.

 
Give Due Credit

Nothing frustrates an employee more than working hard and producing stellar results only to have his manager steal all the credit.

Managers tend to do this out of insecurity and a desire to look good in front of their own superiors. But managers should consider this: having a high turnover in your team doesn’t reflect well on you as a leader either.

In the same study by Officevibe, 37% of workers said that their boss failed to give credit when due.

So give your employees credit for the hard work that they do. Go beyond recognising them for their efforts; make them look good in front of your bosses and they will feel so much more empowered and motivated to work harder for you.

The best part is that it doesn’t cost you or the organisation a cent.

 
Say ‘Thank You’

In a meeting with an HR Director of another company once, this individual remarked, “Why should we say ‘thank you’? They are paid to do the job.”

This is exactly the kind of mindset amongst senior management that leads to a disenchanted and demoralised workforce.

While it is technically true that they are paid to do the job, a manager who neglects or disregards his employees’ emotional needs will never earn the loyalty of his staff.

Undervalued workers underperform. Eventually, they leave. The Officevibe study found that 50% of the employees who don’t feel valued by their bosses plan to look for a new job in the next year.

Again, uttering those two words doesn’t cost anything, except maybe for the boss to put aside his pride.

 
Respect Their Time

Some managers show up for meetings late, making subordinates wait an inordinate amount of time either out of blatant disregard for their workers’ time or it is done intentionally, as a power trip to “show them who’s boss”. Apart from being bad form, such behaviour wastes their time and may result in employees having to work late to complete their tasks and meet their deadlines.

Another bad habit some bosses have is giving employees a task just before the end of the workday and expecting it to be completed before they leave the office.

It may seem like a small issue but managers need to realise the effect of such behaviour: it takes away precious time that your employees could be spending with their loved ones or pursuing activities they enjoy that help contribute to their sense of well-being or work-life balance.

If you do these consistently, they will grow to resent you and they will certainly not want to put in their best efforts for you.

 
Don’t Abuse Employees

This may seem glaringly obvious but it always surprises me that there are still bosses who shout and scream at their employees, embarrassing them in front of co-workers and clients. This creates a negative atmosphere and is very damaging to the worker’s morale.

You may recall a case in Singapore sometime ago where a video clip of a supervisor slapping a subordinate several times went viral. It is beyond comprehension how some bosses think they can get away with such abuse in this day and age. Yet, the research by Officevibe actually found that 44% of employees had been verbally, emotionally, or physically abused by a supervisor in their career. What is even more shocking is how some employees tolerate such treatment. One thing for sure, it is only a matter of time before they run for the exit.

Even if you offer great benefits and a gorgeous office with fantastic amenities, people can only take so much before they feel compelled to walk out the door if the boss gives them so much grief that it is no longer worth it.

So be professional and give your employees the basic respect any human being deserves.

The days of fear-based leadership are long gone. People don’t want to work for someone who constantly makes them feel demoralised; they want an environment that is conducive for them to do their job well. And it is best that managers take heed, because employees are the ones who have the luxury of choice in this tight labour market.

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