Can Training Change an Insensitive Manager?

When managers don’t show a personal interest in employees and demonstrate caring, they risk losing valuable team members.

The manager who doesn’t remember (or care) when employees’ birthdays are, doesn’t offer condolences when an employee’s parent dies, and doesn’t consult with an employee before passing them over for job opportunities: This could be construed as incompetence (particularly in the case of the last example)—or insensitivity. The manager simply doesn’t think of any of those things.

I found a great article on Essence’s Website about how employees should deal with an insensitive manager. But there is less material online about how companies should deal with insensitive managers.

Evaluating Manager Sensitivity

First, how do you measure or evaluate sensitivity? More importantly, is this a characteristic that is worth measuring and judging managers by? I’m a sensitive person, so I would say, “Yes, definitely!” Less sensitive people might disagree. However, with the fight to retain talent so fierce these days, don’t companies need every advantage they can get? A manager who cares about employees’ lives, including remembering their birthdays and empathizing when personal loss occurs, could be a huge advantage. An employee may be less likely to leave if they feel their manager cares about them as a person.

The manager who cares enough to get to know their employees also has the advantage of knowing each employee’s personal and career goals, and where those goals align. The manager who doesn’t care may pass over development opportunities for employees because they don’t know how much such opportunities would mean to an employee.

When doing annual performance reviews, the employee could be given a form to fill out about their boss. One of the criteria the boss would be evaluated against is sensitivity. The employee could be asked to respond, “Yes” or “No,” to statements such as:

  • “My boss acknowledged by birthday last year.”
  • “My boss knows my career goals and did at least one thing last year to help me work toward them.”
  • “My boss did something last year that showed they cared about me. That thing was…”

Bosses who score low on sensitivity would have that added to their file as a potentially limiting factor in further growth opportunities. But they also should be offered training opportunities to help them be more sensitive if they choose.

Education Can Help

You also can consider ways of helping the manager “fake” sensitivity or least appear empathetic. I say, “fake sensitivity,” because sensitivity is a trait a person is born with, and I would guess that you can’t make a person who was born insensitive sensitive. However, you can educate them about the impact of their behavior on others.

“Bob, how do you think it makes your employees feel when it’s their birthday and you don’t know, and appear not to care when you do find out? How would it make you feel?”

“Oh, I wouldn’t care,” Bob might respond (after all, he’s insensitive).

“But not all your employees are as insensitive as you are. Some are highly sensitive and find your lack of interest in birthdays to be cold.”

If Bob is interested in retaining employees, and getting the best out of them, he might start researching nearby bakeries and card shops.

More significantly, a person like Bob may need to be educated about the impact an insensitive manager has on an employee who was passed over for a promotion they were highly interested in.

“Bob, did you know Sydney was hoping to get that promotion for herself?”

“I had no idea.”

“You would have had an idea if you had engaged with Sydney during the hiring process for her new boss. You could have let her know the position was open, and invited her to apply. You could have sat down with her and discussed whether the position interested her, and if she was interested, why she felt she was qualified. You also could have asked how she would feel if she did not get the promotion, and, instead, had a new boss moved up over her.”

“I would have to reconsider my career plans,” Sydney might have said, signaling that she would be very unhappy and likely to look for a new job.

Upward Mobility for Insensitive Managers

When you don’t show an interest in employees and demonstrate caring, you risk losing valuable team members. Should the manager who takes that risk repeatedly continue being a manager and get pushed up the career ladder in your organization?

Is sensitivity a factor you consider when evaluating managers? If so, can you change an insensitive manager?