Top Ways Employees Would Change Their Managers

Last week, a freelance project manager and I exchanged a pointed look during a meeting. My manager had interjected while the freelancer was trying to talk, and our look to one another was a tacit moment of mutual suffering. We both had noticed that my manager is arrogant and overbearing. He likes to talk and direct more than he likes to listen and receive much-needed direction. 

Like many of us, there is a lot I would change about my manager if I had the luxury. I explained to the new project manager over drinks that I had learned to do workarounds to continue being productive in spite of my counterproductive manager. How often does that happen at your company between employees and managers? Probably more often than you think. 

A recent article in TechRepublic by Macy Bayern includes survey results showing 15 leadership characteristics of bosses that employees would most like to change (to view the full study, visit: The top five: 

  • Create new goals for employees
  • Increase employee pay
  • Foster teambuilding
  • Focus on improving office culture
  • Give employee bonuses

My own top requests: 

  • Increase organization and awareness, so the employee isn’t in a position of having to inform the manager of what he’s supposed to be managing
  • Increase sensitivity and thoughtfulness so the employee doesn’t feel overlooked, slighted, or taken for granted
  • Increase focus on contributing to completion of work rather than on serving as department gadfly, dropping in to offer heavy-handed critiques, and then breezing away when it’s time to get things done 

Is it a useful exercise for employees to submit their top 3 to 5 points for manager improvement as part of the manager’s annual performance review? Or as part of a separate communication between employees and Human Resources? Asking employees for long-winded, in-depth feedback about their bosses as part of a 360-degree performance review can be daunting. Asking employees simply to submit a list of the top few things they would like to change about their bosses simplifies the task, getting to the point of how each manager most needs to improve. 

Lists from multiple people the manager works with, in which the same one or two needed changes appear, also could be a wake-up call for the manager. He or she wouldn’t be able to say the request for change only reflects the feeling of one or two disaffected people if the same point were made on the lists of many others. The challenge is figuring out what to do when the manager, whom others have asked to change, is highly regarded. He or she may make monthly financial targets, and be well liked by the other managers and executives, but still be lowering the quality of work life for employees. The next step could be to take the employees’ requests for change and weigh those requests against the retention rate of employees working under the manager, and notes taken during exit interviews with employees from the manager’s department who left voluntarily. From there, it becomes a financial calculation. Are the number of good employees lost because of dissatisfaction with the manager worth it when weighed against the financial success of the department? And how much is the manager personally responsible for that success?

There can be inertia in organizations about removing long-serving managers and executives, despite rumors that the person is a problem, or even a toxic, boss. When you can simplify the process of identifying those who need to change, you can start the process of eliminating people who are contributing to a low retention rate, or who are hobbling employees in their work. 

I wonder if the process of identifying counterproductive managers could be simplified further by having employees do it via their phone with artificial intelligence leading the interview. In that case, the identity of employees offering suggestions for change would be protected. An AI system could ask the questions, with employee giving numerical ratings about the manager by tapping numbers on their phone keypad for some questions, while for others, the AI system could record employee comments, with the system disguising employees’ voices to ensure anonymity. Not all employees are able to easily and clearly express themselves in writing. A system that would both provide anonymity and be able to record orally expressed comments might be the most effective. 

How do you identify managers who need to improve? How do you make the process easy, simple, and comfortable, for employees?