10 Ways You’re Annoying Your Employees

If you’re like most managers, chances are good that you have some habits that irritate your employees. And if you’re like most managers, you don’t have much idea about what those are.

Here are 10 of the most common ways that managers frustrate and annoy their employees. See if you recognize yourself (or your own manager) in any of these.

1. Not being clear about what you want. One of your most important jobs is to communicate clearly as a manager, including concrete goals for what your team and each individual employee should be achieving. Here’s a useful test: If your employees were each asked what is most important for them to achieve this year, would their answers match yours? If not, that’s a sign that you have a lot more work to do in order to get aligned about what successful performance looks like.

2. Changing your mind about projects when they’re partway through. It’s unavoidable that projects will sometimes need to change after they’re already underway, but if you’re regularly changing the goals or details of a project after work has already begun on it, chances are pretty high that your staff is frustrated about it. Try putting more time into thinking through projects on the front-end, and talking out the details of them with your staff, to minimize the chances that you’ll realize you need to make changes after they’ve already begun putting work into the first version.

3. Not dealing with problem employees. There’s little more frustrating for employees than feeling that they’re working hard while a coworker isn’t pulling their weight. If you have someone on your team who doesn’t work hard or produce results, or who makes other people’s jobs harder, your team sees it – and they’re wondering why you’re not addressing the problem. Seeing a low performer stick around month after month is terrible for the rest of your staff’s morale – and a good way to eventually lose high performers.

4. Judging people on face time rather than results. Your focus should be on what employees are achieving, not what time they came in or left the office (unless, of course, they have a job that requires their physical presence during certain hours, such as a receptionist). Some managers find it easier to focus on hours than to judge performance; hours, after all, are black and white and easy to interpret, while it can be a lot harder to assess performance and results. But it’s the wrong thing to measure. Results are what matters, and that is what you should be evaluating your employees on. And there’s no faster way to signal to high performers that you don’t value them than to care that they came in 15 minutes late on Monday.

5. Not understanding what it takes to get your employees’ jobs done. While you don’t need to know precisely how to do the work of the people working for you, you should have a basic idea of what it involves and how long it takes. Otherwise, you risk coming across as if you don’t appreciate what they do, and you’re likely to suggest unrealistic timelines for projects. You don’t need to become an expert, but you should take the time to learn enough that you can talk with your staff  reasonably fluently about their projects.

6. Dropping by to chat with people when they’re on deadline. You feel like taking a break so you swing by Sarah’s office to chat – and end up staying for 15 minutes telling her about the movie you saw this weekend and your problems with your kids’ babysitter. Then you leave, feeling great about the warm relationship you have with a direct report … while Sarah is fuming that you made her chat with you for 15 minutes while she was scrambling to make a deadline. When you’re the boss, it’s important to remember that your employees generally won’t feel comfortable telling you they can’t chat. They’ll feel obligated – and often really, really resentful if it interferes with their ability to focus on work.

7. Not keeping your word. If you say you’ll review that report by Tuesday, but it doesn’t happen, or you promise to forward a client’s contact info but never follow up, your staff is annoyed that you aren’t reliable. They want to rely on you to do what you say you’ll do, just as you need to rely on them for the same. Don’t be the boss who gets eye rolls when you say, “I’ll follow up with you on that next week.”

8. Not responding to emails and insisting everything be done in person or over the phone. Sure, it’s legitimate to prefer one method of communication over another. And as the boss, your preferences win out, to a certain extent. But if you’re unresponsive to emails from your staff because you’d rather talk in person, you can bet that you have a staff that’s frustrated by your resistance to technology, and who probably think your preferences are inefficient.

9. Complaining about the company or higher-ups. You might think that complaining about your own manager to your staff puts you on a level playing field with them, but in reality, people are more likely to be uncomfortable and think, “Why are you telling me this? And why don’t you do something about it?” As a manager, you’re expected to show discretion and handle complaints professionally, not air them around the office.

10. Not giving credit for their work. If Jane did the research that you used for a well-received presentation to your partners, credit her publicly. If George worked through the weekend to meet an important deadline, thank him publicly too. If you feel that people’s recognition comes only via their paycheck, you’re going to have employees who are increasingly less well to go above and beyond for you. Thank them publicly for their contributions, and make sure  their work is visible to higher-ups, and you’ll get a lot more loyalty in response.


Alison Green

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.

More Posts