The survey says ... Featured

8:00pm EDT May 26, 2007

Employees love to complain about their bosses. But how bad, really, are those managers who occupy supervisory positions in a company? According to a recent study, most employees think that their bosses are not so bad after all. More than half (52 percent) of employees polled say they are satisfied with the performance of their bosses; similarly, 60 percent of workers say they can trust their managers and less than one-quarter (24 percent) of workers feel they could do a better job than their bosses if put in charge.

The survey, developed by Robert Half International, the world’s first and largest specialized staffing firm, and Career-Builder.com, the United States’ largest online job site, was conducted via a Web panel and includes responses from more than 3,000 U.S. workers.

“Our study shows that despite the fact that some employees complain about their superiors, managers are actually doing a fairly good job and employees are happy, in most cases, with their immediate supervisors,” says Robin Webster, branch manager of Robert Half International’s Houston office.

Smart Business spoke with Webster about the results of this survey and the characteristics that make a good boss.

What are some of the highlights of this survey?

Not only did we learn that the majority of employees view their superiors in a positive light, we also learned that managers draw the highest marks when it comes to addressing day-to-day problems. For example, 58 percent of employees say their bosses make time to review their job concerns; only 22 percent disagree. However, workers are somewhat less enthusiastic about their supervisors’ willingness to help them advance professionally. Only 45 percent of respondents say their managers help them develop new skills.

In addition, while most employees are happy with their immediate supervisor’s performance, workers aren’t as thrilled about top executives … only 45 percent of workers say they are satisfied with their corporate leader’s performance, which is about 8 percent lower.

Why do workers have different views of their managers and corporate leaders?

It appears that the higher up the ranks an executive goes, the more difficult it is to communicate with staff. It is this communication that is key to creating an environment where the employee feels heard. The fact that employees are not as satisfied with company executives as their own immediate supervisors reveals that some companies may not be doing a good job of relaying company objectives and communicating with employees. Executives really need to go that extra mile to keep the lines of communication open with staff.

What makes a good boss?

There are many characteristics that make a good boss, but good communication skills are key. There is a need for supervisors to constantly communicate with their staff; this is particularly important in this competitive hiring environment when top employees may receive job offers from other companies. Retention is key. Bosses need to continually ensure that employees are satisfied with their jobs and feel like they are being heard. Good bosses also lead by example, are good at relaying information so that all employees are on the same page, and help employees achieve their own career objectives, as well as the objectives of the company.

While good bosses help employees achieve their career objectives, your survey reveals that managers are not doing a great job in this area.

That’s right. Our survey shows that only 45 percent of respondents say their managers help them develop professionally. This is an area for improvement since helping employees advance is a good way to foster company loyalty and help increase employee performance. This is an area that often gets put on the back burner because professional development takes time and many managers feel they're too busy to take on this role.

How can managers improve this?

Managers need to take the time to regularly touch base and communicate with their staff. It’s important for people to know their bosses will support them. Sit down with employees and find out what their personal career goals are, and then take steps to help them achieve these goals. Supervisors need to be proactive in addressing challenges and help workers solve problems they may have. Managers may feel they don’t have the time, but this is a critical step in retaining top workers in the long run.

ROBIN WEBSTER is the branch manager of Robert Half International’s Houston office. (www.rhi.com). Reach her at (713) 623-4700 or robin.webster@rhi.com.