Managers Discover Why Their Team Members Are Sad

Long hours are not the problem
Long hours are not the problem
Image Credit: hannah k

So here’s a bit of a stumper for you. A manager had run into a problem. His company conducted those ubiquitous “how are things going” surveys of their employees and the results for his team were awful. Everyone on his team was miserable. This was in comparison to everyone else who was working at the company. The people who worked on his team had talents that the company desperately needed and losing them would be a big blow. He needed to find a way to use his manager skills to keep them from leaving. What he had to do was to find out why his team was unhappier than everyone else.

This manager knew that he had a real task on his hands. His goal was to collect whatever data he could in order to use his manager training to understand how his team members were going about their work. His goal was to find ways to make them more engaged and productive. He took a look at what kinds of data that he had available to him and discovered that the easiest data for him to get his hands on were the team members’ own emails and calendars.

His first steps were to compare metadata collected from their inboxes and calendars. He compared it to the same type of data gathered from other groups who had scored higher on the company’s work-life balance surveys. His goal was to see if happier employees spent their time any differently than the disgruntled ones on his team did. He was asking questions like were these particular employees more miserable because they were working longer hours? Was it because they had too many requests flying at them during after-work hours?

In the end, the answers to these questions turned out to be no. It was true that his team members worked hard and long hours. But happier employees from other teams worked just as long and sent emails at all times of day. His gut instinct that had told him that one of these issues had to be his smoking gun turned out to be wrong. Not surprisingly, the people on his team who had taken jobs requiring that sort of commitment and seemed to accept these things as part of the deal.

Finding The Smoking Gun

The manager knew that there had to be a reason that the people on his team were unhappier than everyone else at the company. He kept digging. What he found was that team members were spending a high percentage of their time in meetings each week — an average of 27 hours. But this was about the same amount that other groups did.

There was one key difference, though. The meetings that his team were attending tended to be huge, with 10 to 20 employees per meeting. What the manager quickly realized was that the meetings were too big. These types of meetings left little time for team members to do focused or creative work. That’s why they were logging extra late nights and weekends. It was the only time they had left to do the real work they needed to do.

What the manager had discovered was that he had been clogging the schedules of his team members with overcrowded meetings, reducing available hours for tasks that rewarded more focused concentration — thinking deeply about trying to solve a problem. The solution to this problem was to make some changes. Going forward the manager become thoughtful about how many large meetings he scheduled and require his team members to only attend the most essential ones. He also encourage his employees to block out time on their calendars for concentrated work. The good news is that over time, the work-life balance numbers improved. Employee retention numbers were stable. Team members were able to spend more time getting work done and doing team building instead of squeezing in work between meetings.

What All Of This Means For You

This manager’s problem should serve as an example for all of us. He discovered that his team had a problem based on the results of a survey that his company took. Instead of pretending that the problem didn’t exist, he realized that he had a problem and he took action to solve the problem. This is exactly what we should be doing.

In this manager’s case, what the survey told him was that the members of his team were miserable in comparison to everyone else who worked for the company. Once he knew this, it was his responsibility to find out why. He started out by collecting data from team member’s emails and calendars. He tried to find out if the members of his tem were working longer hours or working later than everyone else. The answer to these questions turned out to be no. The people on his team spent a lot of time in meetings, but that wasn’t the issue. The issue turned out to be the fact that they were spending their time in large meetings with 15-20 people attending them. This meant that they didn’t have any time left over to do creative work or to solve problems.

This manager did all of the right things. Once it was known that his team had a problem, he took action to try to determine what the problem was. He did the required research, eliminated the possible causes that were not contributing to this problem until he found the issues root cause. Once this was known, action to resolve the issue could then be taken. We can all learn from this example. We are responsible for our teams and we need to make sure that they are both happy and satisfied with their jobs.

– Dr. Jim Anderson Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Management Skills™

Question For You: Do you think that the best way to resolve this issue would have been to talk to the team members first?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

One of the most important things that any manager does is to make decisions. We make a lot of decisions every day. We hope that we are making good decisions; however, I think that we all realize that we probably make a mix of both good and bad decisions. What we’d all like to be able to do is to make more good decisions and fewer bad decisions. The question is just exactly how can we go about doing this? It turns out that the answer may be simpler than we thought.