Earn Your Managerial Salary â€" Communicate Don't Dictate

Last Updated Oct 29, 2007 3:13 PM EDT

We start with a problem that is well-known to any corporate team leader: time and productivity lost to employees grousing about the boss's shortcomings.

A survey conducted by Development Dimensions International and Badbossology.com found that 32 percent of respondents spend 20 or more hours a month disparaging their manager.

Let's put that into perspective. For a manager leading a team of ten, with, say, an average salary of $45,000 a year, you're talking about 1200 productive hours lost, and tens of thousands wasted in salary alone. No insignificant problem, this.

So why then do most managers and consultants come up with such insignificant responses?

One top management consultant suggests, in regard to the survey's findings, that managers tell their reports to ask themselves four questions before venting their frustration. To paraphrase, "Will this comment help a) our company, b) our customers, c) the person listening, d) the person being talked about?"

Not to be harsh, because these are good questions to ask, but does this remind anyone else of the banner hanging above the cube farm in Office Space?

A problem as large as this, and as portentous of bigger issues, deserves a more thoughtful, multifaceted and long-term response â€" not a hollow edict. It's precisely this type of laurel-resting and reliance on rank over wisdom that likely irked the gossiping team member in the first place. In fact, a response of this kind might merit twenty hours of managerial mockery in its own right.

A manager gets paid to solve problems, not dismiss them or pass them down the chain. Here are some thoughts on how a manager can approach workplace negativity with a little more of a long view:

1) Ask for feedback. Giving them a chance to vent by either asking for frank feedback or offering an anonymous means for evaluating the team leader.
2) Offer more information about your decisions and why you make them. Confusion is the most common cause of frustration.
3) Make sure your team knows what exactly it is you do with your day. They want to know you're grinding, especially when they are.
4) Along those lines, make sure you work at least as hard as your team members, and show that you'll pitch in when needed
5) Let them know you have an interest in their development. This is closely tied to their job satisfaction.
6) Don't get caught up with the little things if the results are there. Micromanaging is both ineffective and a morale-killer.

In the end, no matter how things turns out, it won't take twenty hours for them to say: "Man, the boss may be an idiot, but he sure works hard at it."