A Boss’s Day Survey Shows Us Trust Is an Issue

So, what does make a great boss? Is your boss “The Good Shepherd” or maybe “The Devil Wears Prada”?

It’s a good question to consider today, which is National Boss’s Day in the US.

Some employees may love their boss – especially when they go the extra mile for their employees:

“My boss offered to skip an important meeting and loan me money to drive me to get my car after it had been towed.” Male employee

Others are not so loved:

“I’m quitting my day job because my boss berates people in public for no reason.” Female employee

And when Totaljobs investigated the relationship between bosses and reports in the UK, they also found signs of managers not doing as well as they thought they were.

To check the state of employee/boss relationships in the US, Good&Co, where I work, asked the same relationship questions to 288 managers and 656 employees. While in the US the relationships between direct reports and line managers are faring better than in the UK, our study identified key areas where there could be room for improvement.

How they see each other

Our data showed US bosses feel competent about their management abilities, scoring on average 7.6 out of 10, with 59% rating themselves highly (anything above an 8). Turns out they weren’t too far from what employees thought. On average, workers rated their bosses 7.1 out of 10; 52% agreed their boss was highly competent.

However, when it comes to trust, the gulf is wide. While 49% of employees feel they can trust their boss, only one in three managers said they believed their workers (34%).

“Some of my employees are shifty. They will do exactly what is asked of them, and then behind your back complain about it and get pissed that they can’t sneak in extra breaks.” Female middle manager

Despite a lack of trust, 65% of bosses are happy to socialize outside work with their reports. Employees, however, don’t feel the same. About 70% told us they would never socialize with their boss; 18.5% would avoid them altogether if they saw them outside.

No surprise the majority of bosses (65%) and reports (64%) view each other as colleagues, not friends.

Some employees said they found it awkward socializing with their boss, or claimed they had little in common. Others work remotely and feel a complete disconnect with their boss.

“I’ve never actually met my current boss since I work remotely from home in Florida and they are in California. I don’t even get any communication from him/her.” Female employee

This may help explain why many bosses also feel unappreciated – 37.5% said their reports don’t understand how hard they work. Yet 70% of managers don’t see the job as stressful.

Lack of training

Some of the disconnect between boss and worker may trace to a lack of management training. Our survey shows 40% never received line management training, and only 35% received it before starting the role. Just under a quarter said they received training only after officially starting as a manager. And a small percentage (5.5%) got no training on how to manage until after more than a year in the job.

While the majority of bosses who received training (81%) said they felt adequately prepared, some of the other survey results leaves us wondering about training quality and how managers understand their role.

We found most managers don’t feel competent when it comes to dealing with employee problems. Only 13% of bosses said they feel confident in approaching their reports’ issues. Even more worrying, is only one in three felt confident dealing with their reports’ work-related problems.

Yet, that doesn’t mean managers can avoid dealing with problems. Few employees (24%) would consider raising personal issues with their boss, but 70% told us they do take work problems to them.

Emotional intelligence

Perhaps bosses realize they are part of their employees’ work problems and steer clear, but it could also signify a lack of emotional intelligence. Both managers and workers had an average score of around 4 out of 6 for emotional intelligence, so while this figure is not worryingly low, it’s not especially high either.

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Bosses may also be reluctant to get involved with employees’ personal problems due, as one manager commented, to a fear of crossing a line:

“For the most part, the people that report to me are very respectful and I try to be respectful to them, however, dealing with personal problems of coworkers can be very awkward and finding the thin line that you can not cross can be a challenge.” Male manager

We asked employees what they considered to be unacceptable management behavior, and here are the top three responses:

  • Making romantic advances towards employees was the top answer (52%)
  • Making informal threats came second (44%)
  • Taking credit for employee’s work (40%)

But reports also hate it when:

  • Managers play favorites (38%)
  • Micromanage (32%)
  • Criticize colleagues in public (25%)
  • Hire or promote the wrong people (20%)

Building better relationships

So how can we build better relationships between bosses and employees?

One way is to get to know each other better.

“We have small birthday parties for everyone in our team. For milestone birthdays, we invite their spouses/partners if they are available.” Male manager

Transparency is also critical to building trust. Be open and honest about things happening in the office.

A good part of the role is keeping the dialogue going with employees. Hold regular one-on-ones to discuss career issues and development, as well as performance. And be open and invite feedback on your performance as a manager.

Our survey made clear what employees most want from their manager:

  • A clear set of performance indicators and objectives (71%).
  • Specific feedback about their work and how well they are doing (69%).
  • A job description that highlights what’s expected of them (45%).

To sum up, our survey showed some disconnect between managers and their direct reports. Trust is clearly an issue.

A lack of management training explains much of the relationship differences and trust issues our survey revealed. Excellent people skills are a must for a management role, and without adequate training, managers are unable to communicate well with their employees, and this leads to a sense of distrust in the workplace.

Dr. Elaine White is senior psychometrician and content lead at Good&Co. Elaine graduated with a PhD in Psychology from Goldsmiths, University of London in 2017. Her role is based around research and the development of Good&Co’s psychometric tools, running validation studies, data analyses and report generation. Elaine is also responsible for science related content on Good&Co’s website. 

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