Promoted from minion to manager? That can be a daunting proposition. After all, being the boss requires a totally different skill set from the one needed to be the worker bee. Actions you think are useful can be detrimental to the office's morale. Habits that were noticed only by your spouse are suddenly causing an uproar among your new employees.
I recently received an e-mail from a woman who is about to become a manager for the first time. Simply put: How does one manage?
"I would love to hear people's thoughts on this. Things you never think of as strange or upsetting sometimes rub employees the wrong way, and I would love to read what people like and don't like about supervisors. Not general stuff like 'don't micromanage' -- I mean specific situations, tips, ways to get the most out of employees and make them feel good about their jobs," she wrote. "I always hear this statistic that your relationship with your direct supervisor is more important to your work happiness level than salary. So what can we managers do to be the best for our employees?"
This week, we tackle "what people don't like about supervisors."
Plenty of people had something to say about this, and although it's a shame there are so many unhappy employees out there, they offered some good insight about what not to do.
One common complaint among workers: Don't talk about one employee to another. It only makes the person you are talking to feel that you will turn around and talk about him or her to someone else -- even if you think it will boost spirits to hear how a co-worker really messed up. Those conversations can and will backfire.
One woman said her boss called her into the office recently, ostensibly to discuss a project, but instead told her about an e-mail he had received from her predecessor in the job. The former employee was fishing around to get the job back, the manager said. He then asked if she wanted to read the e-mail. She said no.
"He laughed, saying that [the ex-employee] was a nightmare and then began to speculate that he believed she had a learning disability or perhaps was an alcoholic," the current employee said in an e-mail. "Not only was her e-mail to him private and not meant to be shared, but he then ridiculed her in her absence and made remarks that are defamatory and probably untrue!"
Reading e-mails and speaking about other employees are widespread issues. Said one woman: "My bosses also bad-mouth employees to other employees. They will tell me that my co-worker isn't very smart or that one dresses inappropriately," said a woman who until recently worked in a small office in the D.C. area. "The thing is, we all watch out for each other, so we share information." (Uh, good thing to note, managers.)
Other workers cited micromanagement issues as the top problems they had with their bosses. Specifically, one railed about the "hall monitor" syndrome.
"Every morning, she positions herself in the doorway to one of her favorite offices, because that spot enables her to watch everyone arrive. She takes note of who arrives late, for eventual punishment," a recently retired employee said of his most recent boss. The retiree went on to tell a story about a co-worker who arrived four minutes late one morning. The manager "immediately commanded the tardy employee to leave the office for 26 minutes, and she docked the staffer a half-hour of annual leave."
With a boss like that, why would anyone stay late in a crunch? Or want to try anything new?
One woman who works for a small-business development company in the District had a lot to say about her boss. She works in a one-room office with three other people. Their boss usually works from home but comes in to the office occasionally. When he does, he creates all sorts of upheaval.
He does things that the four employees think undermine their abilities, and is so disorganized that he trips up the group. "If we are expecting payment from a client, my boss will call them to confirm status of the payment, then (without telling me he already called), have me call the same person to confirm the same thing," the woman said. "He repeatedly loses our e-mails with answers to his questions, so we have to send the same answer five or six times a day." And because there are only four computers for the four who work in the office, the boss kicks one of them off when he does come into the office. So much for getting their own work done.
Obviously, there are some bad managers out there. And why shouldn't there be? Many times, people are thrown into management positions because they performed well where they were. But as they move into a new position, often with inadequate or no training, they have to figure things out as they go along.
There are little things that managers could fix with a simple e-mail. For instance, one woman who works at a local law firm said her manager routinely neglects to inform the office of personnel changes. Not just hirings and firings, but changes in jobs or names when workers get married or divorced. "You try to e-mail them but can't because their old name doesn't pop up on the list," she said.
But some management issues are so beyond help, there is very little an underling can do. Such as when the bosses yell at one another for all to hear. "When the two partners are 'discussing' business, they often get into screaming matches and start yelling at each other in the middle of the office, often using curse words," one woman wrote to me. "It is awful and has destroyed company morale."
She goes on: "Thankfully, this is my last week. I just couldn't take it anymore."
Enough of the bad stuff. Let's move on to those managers who keep employees happy, inspired and involved. Write to Amy Joyce at email@example.com to tell us about your good boss for a future column.
We will then find out from managers what makes a trouble employee and what makes a good employee. The columns will be published during the next few months.
Join Amy at washingtonpost.com to discuss your life at work from 11 a.m. to noon Tuesday.