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5 management styles that are hurting your employee turnover

Could bad management styles be hurting your business, and driving your people away?
Published 28 Oct 2021
8 min read
Person typing at desktop computer

The global business community is currently buzzing about the ‘Great Resignation’.

As the world emerges from Covid restrictions and business confidence resumes, this emerging trend is seeing employees quit their jobs in huge numbers. This unprecedented movement is set to continue well into next year.

We surveyed workers in five markets around the world for our Employee Movement and Retention Report and the response was loud and clear; employees are preparing to jump ship in the next 12 months. 48% of Australian workers suggested this, as did 61% of Malaysian workers, 55% of British workers, 59% of Singaporean workers and 50% of New Zealand workers. That’s a lot of movement.

Our respondents outlined some clear motivations for these decisions, the most popular being a lack of appreciation, a lack of development opportunities, a lack of pay rises, being overworked and a bad company culture.

There is a common denominator under many of these motivators; and it can be an awkward one to address. Could bad management styles be hurting your business, and driving your people away?

What are the characteristics of a bad manager?

Being a manager can be really challenging. Most people become managers by excelling in their roles and taking a natural progression up the career ladder, never necessarily learning how to actually manage in the process. Because of this somewhat flawed model, most people in the role never learn or even consider what skills are necessary to be a great manager.

When soft skills (skills that often relate to effective communication and working relationships) aren’t developed, toxic management characteristics can often emerge. The added pressures that managers often face can also see them overlook leadership skills.

Although most managers have the best intentions to do a good job, falling into a bad management style can have disastrous effects. Not only can it create a toxic workplace culture, it can have great people on your team running for the door. After all, your manager is likely the person that you’ll be dealing with most in the workplace; if you have to endure a difficult leadership style, most wouldn’t hesitate to look for an out.

So what characteristics can we look out for to help us identify a bad manager – established or in the making? If you spot one of these management styles, it’s time to take action.

1. Micromanaging

During the pandemic we saw a reinvention of one of the worst leadership styles, micromanagement. This characteristic has always shown a lack of trust that generally leaves employees feeling stressed and uncomfortable, but with the introduction of forced remote working during lockdown conditions; some managers took it to the next level.

“My boss has announced that while we’re all working from home, the entire company will now be spending the whole work day on a Zoom call with video,” a disgruntled reader wrote to Alison Green at The Cut.

“But don’t worry, we are still allowed to have bathroom breaks and get snacks (wow, thanks so much!), though the majority of our work day should be spent in this weird online room with video and we are supposed to be “dressed for work.” 

It is obviously insulting and a poorly disguised attempt to micromanage. It’s especially frustrating because during this time I have taken on additional responsibilities and my output has increased. I find this demoralizing to the point that I’ve started job hunting.”

Micromanaging – whether it’s as extreme as this case or not – can often make employees feel undervalued. And why wouldn’t they? Micromanagers essentially don’t trust their team to get the job done correctly. It can also be counterproductive, work takes longer and deadlines are stretched due to the manager’s time-consuming evaluation of an employee’s work.

2. Absent

Now to the other end of the spectrum. Absent managers can be just as frustrating as micromangers, as they essentially abandon their team to guide themselves. They will often be late to respond to messages, give no clear instructions, miss meetings and just generally leave employees to their own devices.

Just as with micromanagers, the pandemic also revealed a new kind of absent manager. Communication is key in a crisis, and absent managers did not rise to the occasion. While teams worked from home, these managers would be slow on email and message threads. Neglecting to keep their reports looped in on key company updates, employees of absent managers may have felt like their jobs were more likely to be at risk.

Absent managers don’t only make employees feel nervous and uninvolved; their team will also feel no obligation to do a great job. A good manager motivates employees to do their best work by staying involved and interested in their tasks. Without that encouragement, motivation and goals will quickly fall away.

3. Inflexible

Has the sentiment ‘it’s my way or the highway’ ever had a positive effect on anything? It certainly doesn’t work as a management philosophy.

When it comes to work, it can actually be endearing to admit that you don’t know it all. Good managers will be flexible in their approach to their strategies, leadership style and working models. They know that each person in their team is unique, with individual ideas and ways of doing things; and they will use this to their team’s advantage. This doesn’t threaten their clear vision of what they want to achieve – it actually strengthens it.

Inflexible managers, on the other hand, will try to force their team into working in a way that suits them and only them. They expect everything to be done in exactly the way that they want it, and they aren’t willing to consider new ideas. This often undermines their team’s work and leaves no room for creative problem solving. It can also lead organisations to repeat the same mistakes and subsequently hinder their growth.

You could also consider inflexibility more literally, in respect to flexible working. For inflexible managers, working in the office is the only way to get things done. They want their old routines and they’re planning on asking their team to return to the office as soon as possible. They’ll never see the long list of benefits, including employee job satisfaction, that comes with flexible working.

4. Unfocused

What do most great leaders have in common? They’re driven by a specific purpose, and they know what they want to achieve.

Management will always be a bumpy ride. But it is possible to be both agile and focused. Jobs and projects don’t have to be linear to be fuelled by a singular vision. Good managers will accept the hurdles while keeping their team moving towards the ultimate goal; on deadline.

Unfocused managers will be swayed and knocked off course by those inevitable hurdles. They might get distracted and off task, lose sight of their purpose and miss deadlines completely. They are more likely to be indecisive and won’t take strong action when it’s required. This can be motivated by a desire to keep everyone happy, but ultimately it can lead to their teams losing direction, becoming confused and falling short of goals.

5. Unappreciative

We’ve come full circle back to the leading reason why workers are currently motivated to resign. Appreciation is a very underrated action; and it’s absolutely essential to be a good manager.

Think back through your career to your favourite manager. Did they motivate you by being strict or critical? Would they let a job well done go unnoticed? Would they just expect you to go above and beyond, making you feel as if you should be grateful to have a job at all?

Unappreciative managers never give recognition to their staff. When something goes wrong, they’re quick to play the blame game with their team; and when something goes right, they’re quick to take the credit. It’s an incredibly de-motivating way to manage.

It’s important not to get a lack of appreciation confused with feedback. Managers can – and should – give their team constructive notes, or tell them if they’re not meeting expectations. This just also needs to be balanced with recognition and positive reinforcement.

What are the characteristics of a great manager?

So now you know the characteristics of poor management; what about great management?

There’s no one-size fits all approach, and every manager can bring something different to the table. But great managers are likely to have some common traits of; transparency, consistency, empathy and compassion. They should be strong communicators but also great listeners. They have confidence and trust in their team, but are also happy to step in and take control of difficult situations when it’s required.

It’s a lot to master, but the impacts are significant. With great management you can foster happy and productive teams that want to stick with your business for the long haul.

How do I identify poor performing managers?

While it’s good to be aware of bad management characteristics, as a business owner or HR manager, you’re far less likely to actually bear witness to these bad habits. Sadly, it’s often the case that poor management practices are happening right underneath an employer’s nose.

Luckily, there are a few ways that you can identify bad management practices so that you can quickly address them.

1. Use anonymous happiness scores

No matter how connected you feel to your employees, they’re unlikely to approach their employee or HR if they’re struggling with a manager. Employment Hero’s Happiness Score feature can help.

The Happiness Score is an aggregate score based on the responses to an anonymous and recurring survey, and a great way to take a quick temperature check of your team. Employees rate their happiness at work on a scale of 1-10 and can elaborate further using the comments section.

This anonymous function can help you get a true read on how employees are actually feeling. Someone might put forward a low score and highlights their manager as the problem. While you can’t pinpoint who is having the bad experience, you have your reason to do some digging around the business.

2. Be present across all parts of your business

Whether you’ve flagged an issue through the Happiness Score or not, the next step is to be as present as possible across all areas of your business. How often are you checking in on different teams? Do you know what their priorities and goals are? Can you see that their manager is sharing team achievements with the wider company?

Try to get involved by attending a team meeting every once in a while; even if it’s just monthly or quarterly. Develop relationships with as many people as you can. It’s not about micromanaging the manager, it’s more about having a sense of presence and interest. When you start to understand a team’s inner workings, you’ll be better placed to spot a drop in morale and other red flags of a poor management style.

3. Run regular reviews with your managers

Development and performance reviews shouldn’t slow down for your staff when they reach a senior level. Employees should be consistently growing and evolving.

Do you currently have 1:1 meetings with your managers? 1:1s are a scheduled weekly or fortnightly catch up that an employee has with their direct manager – and managers themselves should most definitely take part. Together participants can track goals and performance, but also stay informed about any difficulties or challenges. This consistent loop of feedback can help managers stay on track, and help you spot any issues in leadership style as they arise.

A management style to be proud of

Relationships between managers and their employees build the dynamic of a workplace. If a manager has a poor leadership style, it could easily be the tipping point that causes an employee to seek alternative employment. Great leadership skills, however, can not only boost productivity and morale; they can keep employees feeling engaged and loyal to your business for years.

If you’d like to learn more about how management styles work in a remote working environment, download our free Remote First Workplace Playbook now.

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The remote first workplace playbook

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