Managing Your Manager

Last week I wrote about how HR can have a good relationship with managers, which got me thinking about the employee/manager relationship. There are numerous challenges that come with managing a team of people, and we often have high expectations of our boss. Sometimes this relationship leaves everyone grumbling. So, how can you maximize the employee/manager relationship? Here are some ways your managing your manager.

Clear communication

Managers are not mind readers, yet sometimes employees expect them to be. Schedule regular meetings with your boss. This is especially important for employees who work with limited supervision. Your boss might not notice you are spread too thin because you have not spoken up. Use your regular meetings to address the issues you are struggling with and do not be afraid to ask for help.

If your manager gives you a project to complete, and you need more time, ask for it rather than quietly hoping they won’t notice you missed a deadline. The same goes for mistakes: speak up. This means taking responsibility when things go wrong. While this is not always easy, it will ultimately make it easier for your boss to help you.

When a friend tells me they are having a hard time with their HR department, I always ask if they have told HR what kind of help they need. I think the same goes for an employee’s relationship with their manager. Do not always go to your manager just to vent; be specific on what kind of help you need from them.  Managing your Manager will help with clear communication.

Avoid gossip about your boss

It is tempting to become involved in workplace gossip, especially when that gossip is about the boss. Sometimes we get frustrated with our leaders, so we turn to our peers to vent and complain. While a little venting can be good, it can become unproductive when it consumes us or it turns into tearing someone else apart behind their back.

Rather than dealing with manager problems by grumbling with your coworkers, go directly to your manager. Just as a good manager does when coaching an employee, focus on the issue and not on personal things. Avoid starting such a conversation from an adversarial place. Your end goal is to have a good relationship with your boss, so you want to work with that person to find solutions.

When your boss is unmanageable

As an HR professional, I always try to encourage employees to work out problems with their managers on their own before enlisting the help of HR or someone else. It is often best when an employee and manager can work out issues without someone else getting involved. I think it helps build a relationship based on good communication. But sometimes you have tried clear communication, regular meetings and addressing specific issues, and you are still having problems with your boss. Unfortunately, there are some bad managers out there. This is when it can be good to go to HR or to seek help from your boss’s boss.

I once worked for a manager who was well known for yelling at people. She was the kind of person who would tell you to complete something one way, but wen you would present her with the finished product per her instructions, she would yell, “I didn’t tell you to do it that way! I would never say that!” She would do this even if you had the email detailing her original instructions. A number of people complained about her, but someone in upper management admitted to me that they were afraid of her, so they did nothing. I ended up staying in this job way too long before moving onto a new company where I had a good manager. Now when I have a friend in this type of situation, I often say it is a good idea to move on.

This is an extreme example, but it is important to remember if you are in that type of situation. Fortunately, many problems with your manager can be solved by improving communication and being direct.

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Stephanie Hammerwold

Stephanie Hammerwold, is the founder and director of Pacific Reentry Career Services, a Southern California nonprofit that helps formerly incarcerated women find and maintain employment. She also blogs on a variety of HR topics as the HR Hammer. When not volunteering for her nonprofit, Stephanie has a day job in HR at a tech startup in Irvine, CA.

Reader Interactions


  1. Corinne Clawson says

    Great example – moving on was the best advice I wish we all took sooner! 🙂


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