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Step aside: Employees think they'd do a better job than the boss

Seven out of 10 employees think they can do their boss’ job better than they can, according to new research out of the UK. 

The Global State of Managers research from The Workforce Institute at Kronos Incorporated revealed that despite 71% of workers grading their boss’ competence a B or better, almost that same amount believed they would be better equipped to do their job. 

The research, which examined nearly 3000 employees across eight countries, graded their manager’s effectiveness across five factors: communication, competence, empowerment, professional development, and support.

The report found that overall, managers are good at their jobs, with the majority of employees grading bosses an A or B for competence (71%) – the highest grade given – and work ethic (70%).

The older the employee, however, the more critical they are of their boss: Baby Boomers1 and Gen Xers grade managers more harshly with a C, D, or F for overall people management skills (37% and 38%, respectively)

Bosses also received high marks (B or better) for their communication skills, people management skills, and ability to handle performance-related issues (all 67%).

Employees graded their managers high on competence but nearly failed them when it comes to work-life balance and job coaching, the research found. 

“As the working world continues to evolve, and new generations enter the workforce, styles, preferences, and perceptions will continue to change,” says Joyce Maroney, executive director, The Workforce Institute at Kronos.

“With the number of millennial managers growing, attitudes toward aspects of management and working style will also change,” she says. 

“As the student becomes the teacher, organisations should have a clear lesson plan for leadership development and effectiveness in key areas to set tomorrow’s managers up for ongoing success.”

According to the report, the employee-manager connection remains critically important: 70% of employees say their relationship with their manager is an extremely or very important factor when deciding to remain at their current job, with 22% agreeing it’s somewhat important. Millennial (79%) and Gen Z (73%) employees feel strongest about the importance of the manager relationship for retention compared with Gen X (66%) and Baby Boomer (62%) counterparts.

Nearly seven out of 10 people think they can do their boss’s job more effectively, the report showed. While bosses worldwide are well regarded by their employees, these same employees think they could personally manage even more effectively, with younger Millennial (73%) and Gen Z (70%) employees most confident they could do better. 

Based on grades given of a C, D, or F, at least one in three employees feel their manager could improve at modeling work-life balance (37%); their ability to coach for better job performance (37%); handling performance-related issues (33%); and communication (33%).

For overall people management skills, the majority of workers would “pass” their boss with an A (26%), B (37%), or C (25%); yet 4% of employees give a solid F for performance.

Dan Schawbel, research director, Future Workplace, says it’s no surprise that employees globally feel they can do their manager’s job more effectively – especially with the generation gap continuing to widen. 

“Organisations should take note of the state of their managers and continue their education and training – focusing in areas of relationship development, communication, and modeling empathy – while ensuring managers have time and bandwidth to regularly check in with employees to ensure harmony and satisfaction across the board," he explains.

The report found that frontline industry managers have some homework to do, while managers in technology and professional services industries receive highest marks.

Managers in the technology industry are on top overall, scoring highest marks (A or B) in people management (81%), communication (75%), and modeling work-life balance (70%), while professional services managers (e.g. accountants, engineers, lawyers) rank second-best, with 70% of employees grading them a B or better for people management and communication.

The report found that employees in the technology (77%) and finance (70%) sectors say they have a strong or very strong relationship with their boss, followed by manufacturing (62%); education (61%); retail (61%); and professional services (61%).

There is room for managers to model better work-life balance in frontline industries – i.e. those who must be present to do   their jobs – with 53% of employees in federal government, 42% in healthcare, and 42% in retail giving their boss a C or worse.

Regarding pure competence, managers are graded worst – C or lower – by public safety (44%); federal government (39%); transportation/distribution/logistics (35%); and healthcare (34%) employees. Meanwhile, more than one in three employees give poor marks of a C or worse for their manager’s work ethic in federal government (37%); healthcare (34%); transportation/distribution/logistics (34%); and manufacturing (33%).