The 3 Signs of Healthy Employee-Manager Relationships

January 24, 2020      By Andrew Taylor

Ultimate Takeaway
  • Some of the best employee-manager relationships allow both parties to feel challenged, celebrated, and trusted.
  • Many employees would prefer work that is challenging, yet meaningful—sometimes they value this even more than money.
  • Employees who believe their voices will be heard feel five times more empowered to produce awesome work.

What’s sunshine without a little rain? Belly laughs without an occasional tear? The magic of Wi-Fi, without the soul-crushing defeat of a family member picking up the landline while you’re trying to connect to dial up? (Any 90’s kids in here?)

The point is that life always tastes a little sweeter after having a touch of sour.

In my journey from working in restaurants as a teen to now calling one of the best places to work my home, I’ve worked for an eclectic range of personalities. And while I’ve been spared from any true nightmare bosses, my experiences have allowed me to deeply appreciate the leaders I’ve worked with here at Ultimate Software.

Here are some key differences that I’ve noticed about the employee-manager relationships I’ve had with the leaders of Ultimate.

We Challenge One Another

Is it just me, or is employee engagement usually talked about primarily as a pain point for managers? If you ask me, being disengaged or essentially “checked out” for 40+ hours each week sounds like a bad time for anybody. I’m sure the same is true for you—regardless of whether you manage people or not. We all want to be engaged in what we’re doing. We need to be challenged.

But not just any challenge will do. After all, employee burnout is a real thing. Employees want work that is challenging in a meaningful way, not just challenging because it’s too much. As HBR discovered in a recent survey, “American workers said they’d be willing to forego 23% of their entire future lifetime earnings in order to have a job that was always meaningful.” That’s saying something.

I’ll also speak for myself in saying that having meaningful work is certainly a driver of engagement. I love writing, and I love providing information that helps others enjoy work as much as I do. This very blog post is just one definition of meaningful work in action, and I couldn’t be happier about it.

We Celebrate Our Wins

When a team wins, the victory goes to everyone involved. But let’s be honest. It always feels good to be recognized for our individual contributions, right?

There are a lot of us who tend to shy away from taking credit—and for good reason. Sometimes we do it out of fear of being misunderstood as arrogant. Other times, we do it to avoid discrediting anyone else’s hard work. Whatever the reason, we don’t always speak up to say, “I did that!”

But that need to speak up on your own behalf goes away entirely when you have a manager that makes it a point to highlight your unique contributions whenever possible. And maybe that’s the answer. If we all spent less time worried about elevating ourselves, and instead put that energy into elevating those around us, wouldn’t we all end up on top?

Working with Ultimate’s managers and employees alike have showed me how freeing it can be to not stress about managing our personal brand with constant self-promotion. We do that for one another by shouting out one another’s successors. Lift that burden off your shoulders, and suddenly you have time to focus on the things that really matter.

There’s Mutual Trust

Trust is a pretty big deal here at Ultimate. Imagine gifting a workforce you didn’t trust with unlimited paid time off. Scary, right? Fortunately, the trust here is a mutual one. The business takes care of us, so we take care of business. And as far as I can tell, that’s a sentiment that works on every level within an organization, and certainly in terms of employee-manager relationships.

If you want someone to care about their work, trust them to do it by allowing them to take ownership of it. Rigid workflows are absolutely necessary for certain types of work. I’m sure none of us would want an assembly line professional taking creative liberties in the production of our next car, for example. But when that rigidity isn’t required, but instead imposed, those instructions can be a restriction on trust.

There’s no room for innovation or creativity in a step-by-step guide. You do the work. You get the result. Just look at the English language. It’s only become so colorful over time because we allow ourselves to string words together freely. Otherwise, we’d just have an alphabet—and there’s a world of possibilities between A and Z that we must leave room to explore.

When you’re trusted enough to complete a project to the best of your abilities, you’re likely to be more invested in producing the best end-result possible. And the proof is there. Employees in this Salesforce report stated that they were nearly five-times more likely to feel empowered to perform their best work when they felt their voice was being heard, leading to strong employee-manager relationships.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t conclude this section with an important disclaimer: trust does in fact take time to build. An employee and manager who have worked as a team for years will likely have a much stronger degree of trust than a new employee-manager relationship will. If you want to build trust in your work dynamic as an employee, try giving your manager reasons to trust you. When trust is established in an employee-manager relationship, the stage is set for truly incredible success, so it’s important that we all do our part—regardless of where we fall in the hierarchy.

At the end of the day, we all want these things. So, feel free to take the lead—even if you’re not a manager—in making the people you work with and work for feel challenged, celebrated, and trusted.

Want to be a improve your own employee-manager relationships, or just make sure you’re not a nightmare boss? We’ve got you covered. Click here.


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