Why Employees Are Angry at Their Bosses
Luke Babich, Co-Founder & CEO, Clever Real Estate writes about the top three grievances of employees and how they can be resolved.
Here's the bad news: Many workers are unhappy. A full three-quarters of workers are frustrated with their managers, according to a recent study by Real Estate Witch. And unhappy workers are less productive, less innovative, and more likely to leave their company. And that’s not all. Researchers have shown that unhappiness in the workplace is contagious, meaning those unhappy workers can drag down the morale of their colleagues.
The good news, however, is that when you drill down into the study’s findings, it’s clear that the vast majority of these employee problems are solvable. Let’s look at some of the study’s discoveries, consider why employees are angry with their bosses, and reflect on how managers can alleviate that dissatisfaction.
The top three grievances with managers
The top three employee frustrations with their managers are unclear communication (31%), micromanagement (27%), and favoritism of other employees (27%).
From a certain perspective, these first two problems are two sides of the same coin. Unclear communication is essentially a shortage of effective management. The employee is left without a clear idea of expectations, role, and responsibilities. The second problem is an excess of management. The employee is left without any sense of autonomy or choice.
Taken together, these causes suggest the most effective management style is a “middle way.” It's a path that gives employees a clear picture of what’s expected but also allows workers the leeway to decide how, exactly, to achieve those goals. Of course, many managers find it difficult to strike that balance, which explains why so many employees complain of horrible bosses.
The third significant cause of employee unhappiness, favoritism, runs counter to fundamental management values like fairness and objectivity. Workers won't feel motivated to perform if they believe the odds are stacked against them.
Cultivating a non-toxic workplace
Every manager has their own unique management style. Some are subtle and encouraging; others are aggressive and hard-charging. But the Real Estate Witch study found that a small but significant percentage of managers are too aggressive — and that their behavior may verge dangerously close to abusive.
According to the study, 19% of employees have received personal attacks or unkind personal remarks from their managers. And 15% say they’ve been the victim of harassment or bullying. About 20% of employees surveyed said their managers tear down their confidence and negatively impact their self-esteem during performance reviews.
While there’s a degree of subjectivity in a lot of these assessments — one person’s “unkind” remarks are another person’s “direct” remarks — it’s clear that some managers need to soften their communication style. Constructive criticism is a necessity in any effective manager-employee relationship, but it’s hard for employees to hear and incorporate that criticism if it’s put across in a style they find harsh or toxic.
In the long run, harsh management styles hurt employee morale, reduce productivity, and increase employee turnover. Poor management may even be a factor in the overwhelming employee preference for remote work. After all, it’s easier to avoid your manager over Zoom than it is in the office.
Pushing too hard
In another sign that some managers might be too aggressive, 13% of employees said their employers explicitly discourage them from taking breaks. Perhaps even more surprisingly, more than a quarter of employees (28%) say they regularly work through lunch.
On top of the workers who are explicitly discouraged from taking breaks, 19% of employees said they feel uncomfortable taking breaks because their manager may view them as unproductive.
Effective managers understand that productivity is a cycle, not a straight line. In order for workers to unlock their maximum level of productivity, they need to rest and recover between periods of intense output. Skipping a break here and there is sometimes necessary, but making it a consistent practice is counterproductive in the long run. Good managers know reasonable scheduling and regular breaks benefit everyone, not just the employees taking them.
In search of work-life balance
As we learned from the Great Resignation, employees nowadays put a higher premium on work-life balance. Strict boundaries between “work hours” and “personal hours” are a huge plus for employees — but not all of them enjoy this separation.
More than a third of workers surveyed (37%) said they’re required to respond to work communications as soon as they're received — whether it’s during business hours or not. Nearly one-fifth said they have to respond to work communications after hours (19%), on the weekend (19%), or if they’re on vacation (19%).
While this may be the standard operating procedure for the C-suite, it can be demoralizing for lower-level employees. This is clear in the study’s findings. The 32% of employees who only have to respond to work communication during business hours are 33% more satisfied with their managers than the overall respondent pool.
The workplace as a mirror
It’s no surprise that problems we see in society at large manifest themselves in the workplace. Unfortunately, nearly half of employees (46%) say discrimination is a problem where they work.
Black employees are 19% more likely than white employees to identify discrimination as a problem in their workplace, and twice as likely to report poor salaries. In fact, pay gaps (35%) and racism (33%) were the two most common workplace issues cited by surveyed employees. This is in line with data showing that Black women earn just 63 cents and Black men earn 87 cents for every dollar earned by white men.
Women, in general, earn 80 cents for every dollar men earn. Additionally, women are 17% more likely to say sexism is a serious issue in their workplace.
The data around worker discontent can appear daunting. But there’s a clear path forward. The common thread of these findings is that employees prioritize fairness. Managers who can deliver on that front will have a huge advantage going forward.
About the author
Luke Babich is the Co-Founder and CEO of Clever Real Estate, a real estate education platform committed to helping home buyers, sellers and investors make smarter financial decisions.
Luke is a licensed real estate agent in the State of Missouri and his research and insights have been featured on BiggerPockets, Inman, LA Times, and more.