It can be really tough being a manager, especially if it is your first time. Typically, the first time someone becomes a manager they meet the task with unbridled enthusiasm, but then once they discover that the skills that got them the promotion are different to the skills required to thrive in the role the excitement wanes and habits start to creep in.
For some, this means reverting to the coalface skills, getting heavily involved in the work that should be delegated to the team. For others, the people skills required to manage a team seem overbearing and a gap gradually widens between the team and you.
They’re looking to other managers for approval
Motivated employees will leave no stone unturned in order to achieve their goals. Every team has these motivated individuals; they thrive under almost any circumstance. As the manager of a motivated employee it’s your role to facilitate that motivation and channel it towards the goals of the team.
If you are becoming a roadblock to them they will start to seek approval and clarity from other managers. This is the behaviour that emerges from feelings of doubt and a lack of confidence. Sometimes it is a bypass move where the team member will speak to a manager two steps up the hierarchy, and other times they take advantage of cross-functional reporting lines.
The temptation in this instance is to come down heavily on the employee, put them back in their place and tell them about correct procedure. The better response, however, is to ask the employee directly why they didn’t ask you for approval, clarity, etc. Be prepared, the answer is most likely going to highlight a shortcoming of yours, rather than theirs.
They don’t ask questions or offer ideas anymore
What about others in the team? Apathy can set in when the manager is a roadblock. Engaged employees will ask a lot of questions. They will ask about time frames, best practice, expectations, incentives, etc.
They will also present new and interesting ideas at meetings and in response to work tasks handed to them.
If you find that more than one person on your team is withdrawing then:
1) maybe you provide leadership and instructions that spell out no room for ideas so people lose desire to make an effort, or
2) they have learned that asking questions and offering ideas results in negative or neutral outcomes so they choose to keep a lid on it.
There is a general sloppiness creeping into your team’s work
Sloppy work is usually caused by stress and overload or disenchantment with the work at hand. Both require managerial input, not punishment for the perpetrator in a way that means they are too scared to ever repeat the mistake. We need to see a culture in which people feel empowered and willing to improve of their own accord, rather than out of fear. So when you see sloppiness creeping in: spelling errors, lack of attention to detail, emails slipping through the cracks, etc, you need to start thinking about your relationship with the person (or people) whose performances are declining.
It is often said that people don’t leave a company or a role, they leave a manager. Sadly, people begin the search for new work opportunities out of frustration rather than out of a genuine need to increase the level of challenge they face each day. Sloppiness is a dead giveaway that the level of care and pride in work has dropped off. It is up to you to determine whether you are the cause of it. Poor leadership, inconsistent advice and a ‘nothing is good enough’ approach from a manager will often manifest in a general sloppiness from the team.
Punctuality has disappeared
Being on time is one of those strange little trigger behaviours that seems to cascade into a whole world of productivity gains. When people are motivated and committed the punctuality tends to follow. As stress increases and enjoyment wanes, punctuality tends to slip away a bit. Everyone is late occasionally, and some people are always late, but if you start to notice that some of the people that work for you are consistently getting in late and/or straggling back from lunch breaks or meetings or consistently leaving early there might be an issue.
Don’t let this happen without discussion. The problem can have a lot of causes – disrupted sleep, problems at home, etc – but disengagement with your management style is one of the possibilities, so look into it. At the very least your team will know that you have genuine concern for them.
They are asking more HR-related questions
Questions around pay and conditions are usually an indication of a lack of satisfaction. There are some that work for amazingly low salaries, but will never question it because they find their work and the office culture to be fun, rewarding and enjoyable. Alternatively, some people in high paying roles will begin to gripe over ‘modest’ pay increases. They will start to ask you about how many sick days they have left, and when a good time to take annual leave would be. They might ask about career paths and opportunities in other departments. Again, on their own these might seem harmless, but they can be part of a bigger problem. Warning signs might include seeing job ads being studied, or hearing the question “Can I please see a copy of my official job description”.
If you can really dig and find the root cause you have a chance to address the discontent that simmers below. Take the opportunity to improve the relationship and the working outcomes for both of you.
The amazing thing about all of these warning signs is that they are usually reversible. Be aware of your own habits that contribute to a negative response from others. Make a huge effort to get the team to buy back in to your leadership, and follow up with strategies to change the behaviours and habits that created them in the first place. As always, communication is the key. Work on creating a culture of two-way honesty and you should find it a lot easier to overcome any difficulties.
Eve Ash is a psychologist, author, filmmaker, public speaker and entrepreneur. She runs Seven Dimensions, a company specialising in training resources for the workplace.