According to a recent survey conducted at Randstad US, 60 per cent of employees have quit their jobs, or are considering quitting because of bad bosses. Likewise, according to a 2022 study by researchers at MIT Sloan, a toxic work culture is the primary reason cited by people for giving up their jobs.
It is not surprising to learn that a majority of employees see their organisation through their immediate boss. It is also common knowledge that managers or leaders who never offer enough appreciation, make employees overwork, and mistreat them creating an atmosphere of resentment and anxiety, driving employees to quit. So, how should organisations deal with such managers? And how can they be stopped from making the workplace toxic? HR leaders offer some pertinent suggestions to address this widespread but unhealthy practice.
“It is important that organisations consistently offer 360-degree feedback to help managers identify and overcome their blind spots. This will enable them to effectively lead the team without creating toxicity and employee burnout”
Uma Rao, CHRO, Granules India
Communicating company values
Overenthusiastic or over-eager managers aren’t always cruel and abusive. They can be respectful, and yet lack empathy. They may also refuse to offer meaningful feedback and guidance. They may harbour unreasonable expectations, burdening subordinate employees with unmanageable workload. Eventually, when employees are constantly made to feel that they are not living up to expectations, their work and sense of self-worth begin to get adversely affected.
“Overenthusiasm or excessive zeal for work is not bad in itself; particularly if this inspires and motivates others to work better,” says Ramesh Mitragotri, CHRO, UltraTech Cement.
“However, this can easily become a negative trait if the same managers fail to treat subordinates with respect, or are unduly harsh towards them,” he adds.
“Organisations I have worked with have always had a value system in place that does not allow employees to treat other employees in an inappropriate way,” elaborates Mitragotri. “That code of conduct must be abided by. An organisation must be strict in communicating its core values to such managers, clearly setting limits and expectations with regard to what kind of behaviour is acceptable, and what is not,” he suggests. He informs that there are organisations that consider leaders’ treatment of subordinates as an important criterion in the assessment of their eligibility for rewards and promotions.
According to Uma Rao, CHRO, Granules India, this type of behaviour primarily indicates lack of leadership capability and competence. “Such individuals run very fast themselves, but are unable to get team members to run along,” she says, describing what is wrong with such managers.
“The timeless Urgent-Important Matrix is a good tool to segregate priorities”
Indraneel Das, Senior HR leader
Combined effort towards a resolution
Senior HR leader, Indraneel Das feels that the pressured employees themselves can also play a role in resolving the issue. “If employees find themselves stuck in an unpleasant environment with an overzealous manager, they MUST proactively and effectively define and align expectations with the said manager,” he urges.
Das advises such managers to pause, and differentiate between urgency and prioritisation when dealing with team members. “The timeless Urgent-Important Matrix is a good tool to segregate priorities,” he suggests. “Individuals in leadership roles must keep in mind that misunderstanding urgency and setting impossible deadlines will only mean setting their team up for failure,” he warns.
Das further recommends documenting and setting up an RACI chart, outlining tasks, responsibilities, deliverables and deadlines to avoid piling needless pressure on team members.
While pressurising employees to get more work done than possible seems to initially produce results, it inevitably begins to affect employee performance and diminish job satisfaction, triggering a burnout. In a study in the Employee Engagement Series conducted by Kronos Incorporated and Future Workplace in 2017, 95 per cent of HR leaders acknowledged how employee burnout was sabotaging workforce retention.
“Toxic managers never acknowledge or believe they are in the wrong,” opines Mitragotri. “Since many of them see such behaviour as a trait of success, it is critical to build awareness of how it has a detrimental effect on others,” he suggests. Mitragotri suggests guiding and coaching managers to help them become aware of their behavioural issues and develop better leadership competencies.
“Overenthusiasm or excessive zeal for work is not bad in itself; particularly if this inspires and motivates others to work better”
Ramesh Mitragotri, CHRO, UltraTech Cement
“In case nothing works, harsher methods may need to be adopted,” says Mitragotri, recalling a real-life experience in which an outstandingly efficient manager was flouting the company value system by being disrespectful to subordinates. He was refusing to offer them feedback and evaluate their performance. “Eventually, he was asked to leave because of his recalcitrance,” he recounts.
Rao echoes Mitragotri’s views on building awareness and training, coaching and mentoring overbearing bosses. “It is important that organisations consistently offer 360-degree feedback to help such managers identify and overcome their blind spots. This will enable them to effectively lead the team without creating toxicity and employee burnout,” she suggests.
However, while urging organisations to show the mirror to such managers, Rao warns against the adoption of punitive measures. “The company stands to lose if the team leader in question is a very good worker,” she points out. “In my professional experience, I have seen turnarounds when individuals are made aware of the flaws in their leadership style,” she notes.
The financial damage wreaked by overzealous managers on an organisation is sometimes quantifiable in terms of cost of increased turnover, employee absenteeism, and reduced employee engagement and collaboration. However, the negative consequences of their actions on employees’ self-esteem are often greater and more long lasting. As noted American poetess and civil rights activist, Maya Angelou once famously said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
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