HR Headaches: What Is Managing Up, and Why Should Employees Learn This Skill?

Learn about opportunities where your employees can manage up and create a better working relationship between themselves and their managers.

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It’s no surprise to any business that some of the managers they employ may not be up to snuff when it comes to leading their teams. Many individual contributors move into management based on their technical abilities, but may have not had the chance to develop the skills required to inspire, activate, and empower their teams. These skills often consist of:

  • Being a good coach
  • Setting clear expectations for work and behavior
  • Delivering consistent and constructive feedback
  • Communicating the broader vision

This can be problematic for your business, as 49% of employees report having quit a job due to a bad manager. With the Great Resignation still in full swing, employees need the tools to arm themselves when problems with their managers come up.

So, how can employees who might be working with a manager lacking these skills find success? The key: managing up.

When employees manage up, they take actionable steps to help get what they need from their manager. It means creating a strong relationship with their manager that will improve workplace relations and better support their own individual performance.

49% of employees report having quit a job due to a bad manager

Signs your employees might need to manage up

There are many signs and symptoms that your managers may require some managing up. This might look like this:

  • Employees are unclear on what the priorities or expectations are
  • One-on-one meetings are often skipped
  • Team meetings are unfocused, and employees leave without any sense of direction
  • Employees are not receiving the right feedback they need to guide their work
  • Teams are being micromanaged rather than empowered

In many cases, managers simply might be overburdened, inexperienced, unaware of their own behavior, or dealing with their own personal struggles. For these managers, consider figuring out the root issues and providing leadership growth and development opportunities.

Whatever the circumstances may be, some employees may need to manage up. So what does this really look like? Here are 5 behaviors of managing up.

5 behaviors of managing up

Learn about ways employees can manage up and make their manager’s job — and their own job — easier.

1. Assert your needs and expectations

If the manager is disorganized with 1-on-1s or often skips them, employees can try saying, “It’s really important to me that I get this 30 minutes of your time each week. Without it, I’m not able to understand my personal work priorities and this impacts the bottom line of our team.”

Employees can come to each meeting with a direct agenda of points they need to cover, and facilitate the meeting, rather than always expecting the manager to take the lead.

TLDR: Employees can make it easy for their manager to give them what they need, and take charge so they don’t feel burdened with doing so and are not trying to read your mind.

2. Understand their working style

While one employee might be punctual, organized, and detail-oriented, their boss may be scattered. While this may be frustrating for the employee, this difference can be used by the employee to help support their manager in certain tasks and projects.

Managers may have different priorities than their employees. Employees can learn:

  • What makes their manager tick
  • What the manager needs to make their job easier
  • How to work best with them

This will help create a stronger trust battery between both parties, which will help facilitate other parts of the working relationship.

TLDR: Work for the manager you have, not the one you desire.

3. Turn your complaints into requests

Mary Abbajay, president and chief executive of Careerstone Group LLC reminds us that behind every complaint there is a request which can be found that can help us improve our behavior. She recommends, “Instead of complaining that there is not enough time to finish a project, ask your boss to let you know which parts of the project need to be done first, and which can be done later.”

TLDR: Employees can sit with their frustrations, reflect, and ask themselves, “What is behind this frustration? How can I turn this into a reasonable request?”

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4. Pay attention to your boss’s boss

If employees are able to get any facetime with their boss’s boss, this could be a good time for them to have some formal or informal conversations to get to know their priorities.

This will help inform them on what the team should be focusing on, and where their boss is coming from.

TLDR: If employees can get a better sense of what is coming down the funnel from the top, they can better get to know their manager’s needs and make suggestions to help them out.

5. Practice self-reflection (regularly)

Employees can take 10 minutes at the end of each day and reflect on their interactions with their supervisor.

Self-reflection is a big part of managing up with a boss. Employees can take 10 minutes at the end of each day and reflect on their interactions with their supervisor.

As an employee, they can ask themselves:

  • Could I have handled any of the conversations differently?
  • Am I thinking about how to get the best possible outcome from my manager, or, am I reacting emotionally to messages popping up on Slack?

TLDR: While we can never control people around us, we can control our own behavior and reactions (as hard as this may be sometimes!).

Creating a stronger workplace

Office politics, workplace dynamics, and relationships with our managers are all part of the package deal when working as part of a team and organization. But this does not mean employees should be left astray when any one of these elements are suffering. By encouraging your employees to manage up, and offering learning and development opportunities for your managers, you’ll create a more equitable and easier to navigate workplace.

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