Even good managers frustrate their employees now and then—while bad managers, of course, do it regularly. Here are seven of the most common complaints about the things bosses do without even realizing it:
1. Making social events unofficially required. Employers frequently assume that employees will view office social events (like staff happy hours or holiday parties) as a treat—and then get offended when employees don't want to go. Most employees would prefer that employers make it clear when events are mandatory, rather than implying they're optional and then penalizing people who don't attend. And managers should realize that not everyone wants to socialize with their co-workers. Requiring employees to attend events that are ostensibly to build their morale may have the opposite effect.
2. Pressuring employees to donate to charity. Employers often mean well when they organize workplace charity drives, but too often managers pressure employees to donate and even monitor individual participation. Charity drives are great, but participation needs to be strictly voluntary, both officially and unofficially. How employees spend their money is their business, not their employer's.
3. Calling employees who are on vacation. Too many employers act as if employees are on-call day and night, even when they're on vacation—which means that too many employees have had their vacations interrupted by calls and emails from the office. Companies that operate this way will have trouble retaining great employees over time, because great people with options will leave for companies that respect their personal lives.
4. Holding endless meetings. There's nothing worse than knowing you have a looming deadline but being forced to sit in a long and needless meeting—but it's also incredibly common. Most employees report that they waste far too many hours a week in meetings without clear agendas or purposes, and that they're forced to sit around listening to idle conversation when they could be working productively at their desks.
5. Not making hard decisions. One common way this plays out is with managers who won't address performance problems or fire under-performers—and if you've ever worked somewhere where laziness or shoddy work was tolerated, you know how frustrating and demoralizing this can be. But it plays out in other ways as well. For example, a manager who's afraid of conflict may hesitate to make necessary course corrections mid-way through a project, but then be unhappy with your final product. Good managers know that their job is to solve problems, not avoid them, and that they can't value preserving harmony or avoiding tough conversations above all else.
6. Delegating without truly delegating. Sometimes a manager is so nervous about, or invested in, a project that even though she has technically assigned it to a staffer, she doesn't really let go of it, continuing to drive the work herself or even doing some of it herself. This leads to confusion about who is actually responsible for the work getting done and diminished ownership (and therefore diminished performance) on the part of the staffer it was assigned to.
7. Hinting, rather than speaking straightforwardly. Some managers feel kinder or more polite sugarcoating a difficult conversation, but it's not at all kind to let someone miss an important message. When a manager sugarcoats to the point that her message is missed, or presents requirements as mere suggestions, staffers end up confused about expectations. And the manager ends up frustrated that their suggestions weren't acted upon. Most employees prefer straightforward communication so they don't need to figure out what they're really supposed to hear.
Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog, where she dispenses advice on career, job search, and management issues. She's also the co-author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Manager's Guide to Getting Results, and former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management, hiring, firing, and employee development.