Are Bad Managers to Blame for Employee Burnout?

What’s the biggest cause of employee burnout? Is it work overload? A toxic organizational culture? Insufficient pay? A new survey finds that all of these are factors, but the No. 1 is … poor leadership and unclear direction. The survey, conducted by Teamblind Inc. (which runs an increasingly popular anonymous chat app for employees called Blind), finds that 23 percent of the 9,000-plus survey participants cited poor leadership as the main source of employee burnout at their workplace. Work overload ranked second at 19 percent.

What sort of characteristics does a bad, or simply ineffective, boss have? Well, he or she tends to badmouth colleagues, play favorites among their direct reports and are focused on proving themselves right above all else, according to a recent survey conducted by The Predictive Index. However, their very worst trait, according to the survey, is a failure to communicate clear expectations–58 percent of respondents cited this as a trait of bad managers.

This failure to effectively communicate, however, may not entirely be the fault of the managers themselves. A recent survey by Gartner reveals that more than two-thirds of people around the world say they need to check with more than one boss in order to do their jobs. An organizational structure that compels employees to have to constantly scurry between one manager and another in the course of trying to get their work done sounds like a recipe for stress overload and eventual burnout.

Aside from considering whether to streamline their organizational structure to make life a little easier for such employees, companies can also help their leaders improve by teaching them to be “Connector Managers.” Connector Managers give targeted coaching and feedback in their areas of expertise or connect employees with others within the company who are better suited to the task, according to a different Gartner survey that queried 7,300 employees and managers and more than 300 HR executives.

The survey, which found that only 40 percent of employees believe their managers help them develop the needed skills for their current role, identified four managerial approaches to employee development: Connector Manager, Teacher Manager, Always-On Manager and Cheerleader Manager. The Connector Manager approach is ideal because it’s more focused on assessing the skills, needs and interests of employees than the other approaches, according to Gartner. Managers who use this approach also recognize that expertise can lie in other areas of the organization, not just with them.

“In the case of Connector Managers, their coaching puts more weight on asking the right questions, giving tailored feedback and being the link between them and other colleagues who can help the performance of their employees,” says Sari Wilde, research leader for Gartner’s HR practice. “They create an environment that encourages transparency and skill sharing within their teams so that employees can learn from one another, not over-relying on managers for everything.”

Andrew R. McIlvaine
Andrew R. McIlvaine is former senior editor with Human Resource Executive®.