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Beware of Managers From Hell

Here's something they'll probably never teach you in business school: The single biggest decision you make in your job -- bigger than all of the rest -- is who you name manager. When you name the right people to manage your company's workplace, everything goes well. People love their jobs, your customers are engaged, and life is great.

When you name the wrong person manager, nothing fixes that bad decision. Not compensation, not benefits -- nothing.

Gallup just updated our global database of employee surveys, which includes a sample of 1,390,941 employees in 192 organizations, which covered 49 industries in 34 countries. This is our Q12 database, and it is the biggest of its kind. And what we found out about managers and employees has serious implications for the future of the American economy.

Of the approximately 100 million people in America who hold full-time jobs, 30 million (30%) are engaged and inspired at work, so we can assume they have a great boss. At the other end of the spectrum are roughly 20 million (20%) employees who are actively disengaged. These employees, who have bosses from hell that make them miserable, roam the halls spreading discontent. The other 50 million (50%) American workers are not engaged. They're just kind of present, but not inspired by their work or their managers.

Here is my big conclusion: A workforce of 100 million employees in America requires a 10-1 ratio of managers to teams. So, for the U.S. to be perfectly managed, it requires 10 million great supervisors and then 1 million great managers of those supervisors. Pick the right people for these roles, the ones who know best how to engage their people, and the country will rise up economically like never before.

But the problem is, given my 10-1 ratio, there are, in my estimate, only about 3 million great managers inspiring and motivating those 30 million engaged employees. That's just not enough great leadership.

Here's why: Gallup research has found that the top 25% of teams -- the best-managed -- versus the bottom 25% in any workplace -- the worst-managed -- have nearly 50% fewer accidents and have 41% fewer quality defects. What's more, teams in the top 25% versus the bottom 25% incur far less in healthcare costs. So having too few engaged employees means our workplaces are less safe, employees have more quality defects, and disengagement -- which results from managers from hell -- is driving up the country's health costs.

But on the positive side, Gallup research concludes that the 30 million engaged employees come up with most of the innovative ideas, create most of a company's new customers, and have the most entrepreneurial energy. Now, given all of this, imagine if America doubled the number of great managers and engaged employees. Is it asking too much that 60 million employees in the U.S. be engaged at work?

This isn't impossible. It's doable. Let me tell you why.

I recently had a conversation with Jim Harter, Ph.D., Gallup's lead analyst for workplaces, and one of the top psychologists in the world. He probably knows more than anyone about the behavioral economics of the world's workplaces. I asked Jim, "Of the 12 items in Gallup's Q12 employee engagement survey, which are the three that matter most in terms of building workplace engagement?"

Jim rank-ordered the top three items this way:

  1. At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day. This is the single-best survey item you can ask an employee. If they score high on this, it means they have been assigned a job for which they have the talent to excel. Mastering this begins with companies identifying employees' strengths and putting them in the right roles.
  2. There is someone at work who encourages my development.
  3. At work, my opinions seem to count.

When the United States of America -- or any country for that matter -- wakes up one morning and says collectively, "Let's get rid of managers from hell, double the number of great managers and engaged employees, and have those managers lead based upon these three employee demands," everything will change. The country's employees will be twice as effective, they'll create far more customers, they'll drive down spiraling healthcare costs, and desperately needed GDP will boom like never before.


Jim Clifton is Chairman of Gallup.

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