What to do when managers and employees aren’t on the same page

Employees and managers frequently hold different views on the workplace, and that is to be expected. But it can be spell trouble if the gap between employees and their managers is wide on issues that are central to job satisfaction and performance, including merit-based promotions, training and development, and work life balance.

A recent analysis of the “Best Places to Work in the Federal Government” data by my organization, the Partnership for Public Service, and by Deloitte, found some unsettling trends in the federal space.

Government-wide, for example, far more managers than employees believe that promotions are based on merit and that employees are rewarded for creativity and good work. Leaders also tend to believe they are even-handed and don’t play favorites, a view not as widely held by their employees.

It is important for agency leaders to identify extreme differences in views and understand why these divisions exist. While improving the staff/manager alignment alone will not solve workplace problems, it can be used as one tool for helping to resolve tensions and make your agency a better place to work.

Here are some steps for both senior leaders and frontline supervisors to consider:

Understand any staff/manager alignment issues. Start by analyzing your agency’s “Best Places to Work in the Federal Government” staff/manager alignment data to better understand the gaps between the views of your managers and staff on critical workplace topics. This will help you determine any possible problems and understand potential challenges.

Discover the root causes behind divergent viewpoints. If there are big differences of opinion, then make sure to organize focus groups, town halls or listening sessions. You need to provide a forum for employees to explain what they think and involve employees in any process designed to improve their relationships with management.

Develop a plan to target that source of disagreements. When deciding how to implement solutions, be sure that the identified activities fit well within the agency’s culture. Some agencies have worked to improve staff/manager alignment by having executives and managers improve communication through brown bag lunches, anonymous online mailboxes for employees to share concerns, or public recognition of exceptional achievements.

Provide leadership training. Senior executives could provide managers with additional training on how to deliver effective performance appraisals to help create a more informed and aligned workforce. The training office and union representatives can help identify training needs, and provide and publicize additional training opportunities for staff.

Improve communication. Too often, managers assume that employees know or understand the reasons why certain policies or approaches are being taken, when in fact they do not. Make clear how programs and policies relate to the mission of your agency, and how the day-to-day work is part and parcel of accomplishing your goals.

Understanding the different views of managers and staff can reveal important insights into the dynamics of your workplace, and provide a path to improving employee satisfaction, commitment and performance. I encourage you to share your ideas or experiences on this issue by posting a comment below or sending an e-mail to fedcoach@ourpublicservice.org.

Tom Fox, a guest writer for On Leadership, is vice president for leadership and innovation at the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service. He also heads the Partnership’s Center for Government Leadership.

Read also:

Tips from federal agencies with happy employees

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Tom Fox, of the Partnership for Public Service, explores workplace issues and provides advice for federal managers through analysis, interviews and reader Q&As in his Federal Coach blog for On Leadership.

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