5 Ways the Boss Can Make Things Easier

A majority of people say their relationship with their boss has deteriorated over the last year. Here are some ways managers can turn that around.

Raise your hand if your relationship with your boss has gotten worse over the last year. 

Based on numerous surveys conducted around the world since the pandemic forced everyone into remote work, about two-thirds of people reading this article should have their hands raised. One New Zealand study, for instance, found that 66% of tech workers felt their relationship with their boss had deteriorated since the pandemic began. 

Jennifer Zamora, a career coach with Korn Ferry Advance, says the problem is rooted in two extremes. Some managers, she says, have simply checked out from their teams, while others are continually checking in. The former leads to feelings of isolation and alienation, the latter to mistrust and burn out. And, left to fester, both cases end up pulling managers and employees further apart than any physical distance between them. 

Whether a new recruit to the team or a seasoned veteran returning from a two-week vacation, experts say the need for connection between managers and employees has never been greater. Here is some advice for the boss:

Don’t shy away from feelings.

Over the last year, people have been doing a lot of self-reflection on what’s important to them in their personal and professional lives. As a result, their priorities and goals have likely shifted. Zamora advises leaders to not be afraid to go deep with people about their feelings. “It’s important for leaders to know what’s important to each individual,” she says. 

Be intentional.

Elise Freedman, a Korn Ferry senior client partner and a leader in the firm’s workforce transformation practice, suggests managers ask employees how they view the company and their work. She says discussing the meaning of their jobs and “what it means to work at the company” can help foster deeper connection, provided both sides can listen to each other’s view without judgement.

Find balance.

The cadence, content, and duration of check-ins varies based on the employee. Some want daily contact with their managers, others prefer to be left alone until an update is needed. Jacob Zabkowicz, vice president and general manager for Korn Ferry’s global recruitment process outsourcing business, says simply asking team members to set their own check-in cadence can go a long way to creating trust and respect. “Employees value managers who respect their time and don’t assume they are always available on a whim,” he says. 

Observe and anticipate.

Ever notice that the smartest people in the room often do the least amount of talking? That’s because they are watching and listening. Experts advise managers to take that approach with employees. Don’t just listen to what is being said, think about the how, what, and why of what you are hearing. Observe how they interact with you, colleagues, other teams, and those at levels above and below them. Paying attention to those details can help you anticipate their needs.

Expand your onboarding.

When it comes to new hires, particularly those working remotely, it is important to make them feel connected to the company and culture as quickly as possible. Besides the direct manager, Freedman recommends pairing the new hire with different people at different levels in different parts of the company. So, for instance, a peer in another line of business, a senior leader, and a lower-level colleague. The idea is to build a network of supporters and enablers that the new hire can go to for advice and learn about how things work at the organization. “All of these people can help create connections for new hires right away,” she says.