Manager mistakes account for the majority of employee dissatisfaction yet most managers never consider how their behavior affects their team.

I am not an expert in managing employees.  But I do have a unique perspective because employees come to me when they are at their wit’s end with their jobs. We are generally an employee’s last resort.  Not all the clients who come see us have legal claims.  Some just need advice about how to navigate a difficult situation.  However, legal claims or not I have come to realize that many employment problems could be avoided by eliminating the manager mistakes below:

Research shows that 70% of employee satisfaction is tied directly to managers’ behavior.  I have read a lot of articles about how managers can manage better (i.e. give clear feedback!, document performance problems when they start!, give praise!) but, in my experience, those types of things matter very little to employees.  Instead, my Top 10 list of manager mistakes highlights what I have learned are the most important issues for employees:


10.  Not listening.  So many managers have egos the size of Montana.  They believe their subordinates are there to simply carry out their ideas; not offer their own.  This refusal to listen to input or be open to new ideas alienates employees and creates an us versus them dynamic.  Employees want to feel like they are a contributing part of a team and they want a feeling of ownership in the service or product they provide.  That means listening to employees’ ideas and even letting them run with some of the better ones.  Employee productivity increases with active participation.

9. Becoming defensive to complaints or feedback.  So many legal claims could be avoided if managers would act openly and proactively when met with complaints or concerns instead of defensively.  This certainly goes for when an employee shares concerns about harassment or discrimination claims but it also goes for simple day-to-day communications.  Many employees who have concerns about their workplace simply want to be heard.  Listening openly rather than defensively can make all the difference in whether the employee trusts a manager to resolve the situation or whether she comes to see me.  Dismissing employee concerns (no matter how small) is the fastest way to ensure a subordinate seeks legal counsel.

8.  Treating staff like children.  Some of the unhappiest employees are those who feel as if they are treated like petulant children. This manager mistake sends a message to the employees that the manager does not trust them or believe they are intelligent enough to do the job they were hired to do.  We see this in jobs where managers create a bunch of unnecessary rules (i.e. no cell phones at work, blocking the internet from their computers, monitoring phone calls, etc).  If you treat people like children long enough they will start to act like it.  Every.single.time.

7.  Micromanaging.  Are you seeing a trend here?  Employees want to be trusted to do their jobs.  A common manager mistake is micromanaging subordinates’ work.  Not only does this create far too much additional work for the manager, it also sends the message to the employee that the manager does not believe them capable.  The happiest employees are the ones who are trusted to do their jobs, congratulated when they succeed, and then gently coached when they fail.  The happiest employees are those given enough room to make mistakes and learn from them.

6.  Allowing unconscious biases to seep into work.  A friend recently shared a story with me:  a high-level partner at a law firm held a video-conference with some of the Firm’s offices in other states.  Most of the attendees were men with only a few women at each location.   In fact, at one of the smaller offices there was only one lone female lawyer in a room full of men.   The partner leading the meeting asked one person at each location to “take notes.” And guess who he chose to be the note-takers?  Yep, at every single location he asked a woman to take the notes despite that the women made up maybe 1/10th of the total attendance.  This included the poor lone woman at the office full of men.  I wonder if this partner even consciously realized what he was doing? But, consciously or not, he showed a huge bias: that the men are expected to come up with the ideas and the women are expected to record their brilliance.   I can guarantee you that the embarrassment and unhappiness these female partners felt stayed with them long after this meeting was over.  Additionally, if this Firm faces a discrimination claim down the road you can bet this meeting will be used as evidence.  We all have unconscious biases but it is our job to remain vigilant that they are not demoralizing our workforces.

5.  Clinging to heirarchy.  How many of us have been at jobs where a manager would never consider pitching in to do “lower level” work?  If a unexpected emergency arises does the manager leave it to her team to handle or does she jump in and help them?   Here at our Firm we are a small office so when something goes awry it’s all hands on deck.  While this can sometimes be a bit hectic, I am convinced this creates team bonding and a feeling that we are all equally important to our Firm’s success (which is absolutely true).  But pitching in can be on smaller things too:  does the manager ever actually make the coffee in the office?  Pick up lunch?  Or, god forbid, answer a ringing phone?  The best managers are those who lead by example and participation; not those who sit in a glass office issuing mandates to be carried out by others.

4. Lacking Compassion.  Linkedin’s CEO, Jeff Weiner, talks a lot about managing compassionately.   He has even talked about terminating compassionately.  Compassion is not being soft.  It is, instead, seeing something through another person’s eyes and then managing with that in mind.  I am huge believer in erring on the side of compassion.

3. Lacking authenticity and vulnerability.  This is the one that I’ve been thinking about the most lately.  Author, Brene Brown, writes and talks about the value of vulnerability in the workplace.  But what is managerial vulnerability?  It’s authentically showing your employees your true self–strengths and weaknesses–and being able to talk openly about them.  Study after study shows that people respond favorably to authenticity and vulnerability.  One example of vulnerability could be a manager discussing her failures with her team, how those failures felt and, importantly, how she rebounded from them.  Not only does this type of sharing humanize a manager it also tells subordinates that they are safe to be themselves and even to try and fail at times.

2.Burning employees out.  It is absolutely reasonable to expect employees to work hard but no one wins when they burn out.  Burnout not only causes employee dissatisfaction is also causes employee illness and absences.  The best managers are the ones who encourage employees to take their vacations, to unplug and to rest.  I cannot tell you how many clients I have seen that come to me for help applying for medical leave and disability benefits because they are being worked to death.  Overwork shows up in high blood pressure, stomach pain, ulcers, anxiety and depression.  Encouraging employees to rest is the best way to ensure they remain healthy and able to work.  It’s not good to have employees on your team if they are too sick to do their jobs.

1.  Being a jerk.. This should be a given yet I am consistently amazed by how much jerkiness there is in the workplace.  One of the biggest reasons clients come to see us is because they have an abusive boss.  Bullying at work is not illegal in the United States but I hate this type of behavior so much that I will go out of my way to find a creative (yet valid) legal claim to raise in these instances.   I had first-hand experience with a bullying boss long ago.  He would yell, scream, throw things and, generally, act like a toddler.  At that time I was young enough to believe that his behavior might be a reflection of my incompetence.  I now realize that it wasn’t that.  Instead, it was a reflection of his insecurity and mental instability.  I can also tell you that I had no loyalty, whatsoever, to that man.   He did this to others on our team too and they felt same way about him.  There was not one person on his team who would have gone out of their way to help him.  This is a huge manager mistake;  ruling by fear instead of kindness will get you nothing.  Best case the employees will hate the manager and actively plot his demise.  Worst case the employees may find a lawyer like me who, come hell or high water, will figure out a way to sue the manager and the company that employs him.  In my experience working for a jerk is the top reason employees leave companies.

The good thing about these manager mistakes is that they are fixable.  Most managers think a lot about how to get better results from their employees but they don’t consider how their behavior factors into that.  The relationship between manager and subordinate is fraught with avoidable pitfalls.  The list above is a good way to start avoiding those pitfalls.

Coming next:  Top 10 Employee Mistakes