In the corporate world, there are various different management styles – something that works for one business may not be as successful for another. For almost every manager, the question is, how important is it to be liked?
Different leadership skills may evolve through experience in the role, or longevity with the same company, but should employees actually like their manager as a person, or is having respect for their ability to do the job enough?
There is no simple, clear-cut answer to this age-old question – there are pros and cons both to being popular as a person or ruling with a rod of iron but not being particularly likeable as a human being.
How important are workplace relationships?
Most employees will have worked for a manager who has the attitude they’re “not there to be liked”, they are there to get the job done. While this might make them unpopular, there’s no guarantee the job will get done either.
Another type of manager may crave to be liked as a person, bending over backwards to avoid tough conversations, conflict and negotiations. They see this as something negative that will reduce how much they are liked by their team.
Employees in general might feel more disposed to working harder to achieve goals for a manager whom they like. However, on the other hand, this leadership style may not get the job done either, as the manager might be too concerned with keeping everyone happy.
In the past, a body of research suggested that employees who actually liked their boss had greater job satisfaction, which would enhance their loyalty and performance. However, in recent years, scholarly studies into the popularity of bosses in the workplace suggested this might not be strictly true.
The term used in modern research to describe manager-employee relationships is “leader-member exchange”. It represents how strong the working relationship is, rather than how popular the person might be as an individual.
A new study looked into whether it matters how much you like your boss. More than 300 workplace situations were studied to try and establish how strong the relationships were between managers and employees.
Employees were asked questions, such as whether it was a pleasure to work under their supervisor, if they could ever become good friends, whether work was fun and how much they liked their boss as a human being.
Most employees said they didn’t need to be good friends with their boss or have a “fun” relationship to be productive at work. They tended to lean more towards the rather clinical term “leader-member exchange” as the catalyst to having a successful and productive working relationship.
This was backed up by studies of managers and employees to gauge how well bosses understood their team and responded to their needs, concerns and potential. The evidence did not show a direct link between liking a manager and the level of productivity in the workplace. However, it did reveal that employees who liked their supervisor as a person tended to be more emotionally attached to their company. This meant they had a 25% lower risk of resigning – so having a likeable manager significantly improved employee engagement and led to a more stable workforce as a whole.
Studies have suggested that liking your supervisor doesn’t necessarily guarantee a high-quality working relationship and greater productivity. It’s not enough to simply have a rapport that helps you work well together; it’s also necessary to have leadership skills and structure.
What rules should a workplace leader put in place?
As a workplace leader, putting rules in place is a crucial part of getting the job done. Although it’s a good start to have an amicable working relationship with your team, it’s not enough to rely solely on your personality.
Show your employees you care by clearly communicating your goals and expectations, so their own mindset is in line with the company vision. Encourage and motivate employees to work hard to achieve the goals.
According to a Gallup poll, only around 50% of employees have a clear idea of exactly what’s expected from them at work, while around 38% say they feel engaged because their manager helps them to set goals. Of the employees who have no clear idea of what they should be doing, just 4% say they feel engaged at work.
Acknowledging your team’s efforts is also important. Make sure their hard work is recognised and give praise where it’s due. They will appreciate your kind words and will also feel valued by the company.
An appraisals system and one-to-one meetings can help employees feel valued, as they have the manager’s undivided attention and can speak confidentially and freely about any personal goals or concerns.
It’s also important for a manager to ensure employees have a healthy work/life balance. Again, this not only makes the employees feel appreciated, but it also helps their mental and physical health by avoiding exhaustion and stress due to overwork. For many businesses, coworking space can help achieve this. It enables employees to work more flexible hours instead of a rigid 9-5 day.
A manager’s tolerance and flexibility will ensure employees see you as being understanding and someone who cares. They will be grateful that you’re accommodating their needs when situations arise that impact their working day.
In conclusion, while being well-liked isn’t absolutely crucial to success in the workplace, it can help when accompanied by a well-structured work regime.
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