by Joseph Giandonato, MBA, MS, CSCS
Having spent the bulk of my professional life helping organizations improve their health and productivity, I have become increasingly cognizant of the role relationships play in determining the success and vitality of an organization.
No relationship is more impactful on worker health, productivity, and job satisfaction than the one shared between an employee and their direct supervisor. Elangovan and Xie (1999) demonstrated a distinct correlation between stress and shared perceptions of a supervisor. Earlier this year, I had the great fortune of attending a peer discussion lead by the venerable Ray Fabius, M.D., a pediatric internist turned preeminent population health pundit, who noted that a poor relationship with the boss is a key antecedent to turnover. (If you haven’t had an opportunity to see Ray present — you’re truly missing out.)
Unfortunately, many organizations — especially those who pride themselves on “promoting from within” — mistakenly elevate employees who lack the necessary acumen — confident, collaborative, resilient, and empathetic — to flourish as leaders. Instead of recognizing potential, they opt to tally the number of years one has under their belt before festooning them a title and accompanying pay raise.
Sometimes organizations promote those possessing great technical knowledge and vocational skill to management positions. Suffice it to say, arcane intellect and ability don’t necessarily translate to success as a leader.
Then of course there are instances when organizations promote someone based purely on convenience, not wanting to cast a wide search that will likely net them applicants more qualified than the impending incumbent.
Each aforementioned scenario begets a potentially toxic environment within the workplace.
Managers lacking confidence are as stable as a mile-high cable antennae tower in a hurricane. They are apt to act brashly and whether benignly or maliciously, undermine the abilities of their employees, in turn distorting perceptions of organizational and supervisor support they hold. Managers who lack confidence may become chagrined or affronted by innocuous task oriented suggestions posed by subordinates.
Managers who do not have a collaborative spirit burning bright from within have the tendency to shut off everything around them, driving themselves and their subordinates into obscurity. These managers are the ones who are hesitant to delegate not knowing that employing the same task driven work style they thrived on as a ‘specialist’ or ‘technician’, which ironically earned them a promotion, is not congruent to leading people.
Managers who are not resilient — ones who cannot effectively anticipate change or adapt to it — musts in todays global, breakneck paced economy — are bound to crumble. These managers are inflexible and often procedure driven — quick to grab the reference manual for solutions which do not exist.
Lastly, managers lacking empathy — a keen understanding of the feelings and emotions of others — are incapable of serving as a sounding board for justly aggrieved and frustrated employees and as a spring board for others merely needing motivation.
I’d contend that any well intentioned employee wellness initiative will fail to permeate the department or area that one of these “managers” is presiding over.
On a personal note, I’ve endured unstable and at times, draconian management regimes. Very early in my career, as a former rank and file employee in a large call center, I was castigated by my supervisors for expressing my desire to take on additional responsibilities and learn new skills. Each year, I was discouraged from participating in an employer sponsored community service activity since it interfered with departmental productivity as I was told. Later on as a salaried employee with another firm, I was casualty to a changing of the guard – forced to capitulate autonomy stemming from a results only work environment that I both flourished under and cherished. These personal experiences have culminated in an insatiable desire to help organizations identify and properly reward high performing and high potential employees and enlighten and motivate those wallowing in despair by providing them purpose — a greater sense of belonging — to perform at their fullest capabilities.
Before organizations think of wellness programs they should take a look at their culture and the people that comprise it. It behooves executive leadership and human resources professionals to identify the most qualified and deserving individuals for leadership positions especially, if they aspire to cultivate systemic improvements in health and productivity. The relationship shared with an employee and their supervisor is the metaphorical pulse contributing to the perfusion of the lifeblood within an organization.
Elangovan, A.R., & Xie, J.L. (1999). Effects of perceived power of supervisor on subordinate stress and motivation: The moderating role of subordinate characteristics. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 20, 359-373.