We’re all great drivers
I have lived and worked in many countries and in some of these countries I have lived and worked in many cities. I travel for work, domestically and internationally, and I often rent cars to get to my destination. In other words, I have driven thousands of miles, in hundreds of cities, in tens of countries, and here’s a universal fact: everyone rates themselves as great drivers. It’s not a normal (bell curve) distribution around the “good” mean. Most people think they’re great drivers.
And here’s what I suspect is another universal fact: upon reading the above statistic you thought “well, some people are just not realistic about their driving abilities. I wish they acknowledged it. The roads would be safer”.
What does this have to do with management?
It turns out that several surveys report that 70% of managers rate themselves as “inspiring and motivating”¹. Seventy percent – that is not a normal distribution either. And I know what you’re thinking: “well, some people are just not realistic about their management abilities. I wish they acknowledged that. The workplace would be better.”
And while you ponder on how you fare with respect to other managers, here’s the reality: 65% of employees would forego a pay raise if it they could fire their managers² and 82% find their managers to be uninspiring.
There are 120,000 excess deaths per year attributed to ten workplace conditions³ and they cause approximately $190 billion in incremental health care costs. That makes the workplace the fifth leading cause of death in the U.S. — higher than Alzheimer’s, higher than kidney disease.⁴
I’m going to list them here. As you read through the list, please identify the ones that are directly within a manager’s purview:
- Being unemployed sometimes as a result of a layoff.
- Not having health insurance.
- Working shifts and also working longer periods, e.g., ten or twelve-hours shifts.
- Working long hours in a week (e.g., more than 40 hours per week).
- Job insecurity (resulting from colleagues being laid off or fired).
- Facing family-to-work and work-to-family spillover or conflict.
- Having relatively low control over one’s job e.g., workload.
- Facing high work demands such as pressure to increase productivity and to work quickly.
- Being in a work environment that offers low levels of social support (e.g., not having close relationships with co-workers.)
- Working in a setting in which job- and employment-related decisions seem unfair.
In my leadership programs as well as in my coaching conversations with managers we often go over these items, identify the ones that are directly under one’s control as a manager and distinguish them from those that are more broadly defined by the organization’s policies and cultural norms.
There are two that most often stand out:
6. Facing family-to-work and work-to-family spillover or conflict.
7. Having relatively low control over one’s job e.g., workload.
#7 speaks to intrinsic motivation. As per data from McKinsey & Company, when employees are intrinsically motivated, they are 32% more committed and 46% more satisfied with their job and perform 16% better.
This makes sense: it is easier to derive satisfaction from the work itself⁵, to feel good or fulfilled about a job well done, when we have autonomy over the work we do. In other words, it’s hard to experience the work as “my” work when there is little to none of “me” in it.
This begs the question: Am I the type of manager who tells people what to do (and how to do it) or am I the type of manager who provides clarity on the expected outcome and allow for people to attain that outcome on the manner they see fit. And just as in the case of the quality of one’s driving, we should focus not on what we think but on what our direct reports experience.
We come to #6: Facing family-to-work and work-to-family spillover or conflict. For now, I want to focus on the latter. The short version is this: the way you treat your direct reports has an impact not only on them but on their families and the communities to which they belong. A person frustrated at work necessarily carries that frustration with them in their communities – it spills over. The longer version of this point is that what is even more detrimental than the frustration we experience at work is the effort we put in trying to “compartmentalize” and not have it spill over. Unfortunately, it always does. If not to others around you, at the very least to your own health.
Managers have the ability to impact the lives of their direct reports in significant far-reaching ways. The way they treat people day-to-day over a period of time has an impact on their psyche, on their body, on their families, and on their communities.
In other words: your manager is more important to your health than your primary care doctor.
When we look back at our experiences at work we can all acknowledge that our managers have played a significant role in making our lives somewhere on a continuum:
miserable – tolerable – acceptable – enjoyable – inspirational
And once we acknowledge this for ourselves as someone’s direct report then we as managers can at least be deliberate about what we want our direct reports to experience. And I’m not suggesting that “inspirational” is what all managers should be aiming for, if only for the simple fact that not all direct reports want to be inspired. A lot of folks are fine with “acceptable” and “enjoyable” (“tolerable” entails some form of discomfort and I’m assuming that no one wants to be “miserable”). And if you’re deliberate about what you want your direct reports to experience you can then identify
- Ways in which you will carry that out as well as
- Some means by which to identify whether your direct reports are there: your own means (ones that befit the people on your team and the context in which they work) rather than the general and generic corporate engagement survey.⁶
I acknowledge, as I did earlier, that the workplace experience is affected by company policies and culture. It is also nonetheless affected by how managers treat their direct reports.
I’m not talking about the one-time, the extraordinary, the heroic, the bandied-about in the company’s newsletter.⁷ I’m talking about the every day, the day in and day out, over the course of weeks, months and years. It’s not what you think you’re doing or the impact you think you’re having, it’s about what your direct reports experience.
In this regard I believe that people have a misguided sense of legacy when they think it’s about the accomplishments that people are going to remember about them. In reality, what we carry with us after a manager leaves, what stays with us after they are gone, is how they treated us, and how they made us feel.⁸
So, how’s your driving?
- “Why frontline workers are disengaged”, McKinsey Quarterly, March 2, 2016.
- Casserly, Meghan, “Majority Of Americans Would Rather Fire their Boss Than Get A Raise”, Forbes, October 17, 2012.
- Cavaiola, Alan A., “Is Your Job Killing You? Literally Killing You?”, Psychology Today.
- McGregor, Jena, ”This professor says the workplace is the fifth leading cause of death in the U.S.”, The Washington Post, March 22, 2018. This reference and the previous one are both drawn from Jeffrey Pfeffer’s book, Dying for a Paycheck: How Modern Management Harms Employee Health and Company Performance—and What We Can Do About It, Harper Collins, 2018.
- As distinct from the outcome of the work: recognition, acknowledgement, salary, etc.
- I want the book to be a “could” book rather than a “should” book. The purpose is to make the reader think and come to their own conclusions. There are enough management books that tell you what you should do and the challenge with these prescriptions is that they might have been effective for the person writing the book but management is contextual, so the prescription might only work if you find yourself in the very same circumstances as the author of the book. On the other hand, you could think about things you have not thought about before, think in a different way about things you have already thought about, and/or be invited to re-think things you have thought about a while back when your circumstances were different and maybe you also were different.
- Nor am I talking about, as I shared in an earlier post, what we do and the example we think we give, but also (and perhaps more importantly) who we are to them.
- As per the Maya Angelou poem.