What not to say: Employees reveal pet peeves

The next time one of your employees admires your business suit, it’s OK to wonder if she’s sucking up.

More than one in five U.S. employees admit to complimenting managers to get on their good side -- even if the flattery is a bunch of hooey.

Just be glad you aren’t a supervisor in India: Almost half of workers there (46%) say they sweet-talk their bosses even if they don’t mean it.

Those are among the findings in a 2013 Kronos Boss’s Day Survey of more than 4,000 workers in the U.S., Australia and India.

Harris Interactive conducted the survey with 2,041 full-time and part-time U.S. workers and 2,100 full-time and part-time Australian and Indian workers Sept. 24-26, 2013, on behalf of the Workforce Institute at Kronos Inc., which helps companies with workplace issues such as labor costs, regulatory compliance and productivity. The Workforce Institute is a think tank that provides research and education on the workplace.

 

Irritating idioms

Workers in all three countries get truly annoyed when managers use inside business jargon, according to the survey, whose release coincided with National Boss's Day, which is celebrated Oct. 16.

The phrase that irks them the most? “Think outside the box.” Twenty-five percent of U.S. employees can’t stand it when managers tell them to do this.

Other annoying phrases cited were:

“I don’t care how— just get it done” (24%).

“I need you to be more proactive” (17%).

“I’ll circle back with you” (17%).

“I’d like to task you with this project” (11%). 

Indian employees get far more irritated by corporate jargon (95%) than do Australians (83%) and Americans (76%).

 

Age, geography matter

The older the worker, the more he prefers honesty in a boss: U.S. employees 55 and older value this trait in a manager (90%) more than U.S. Millennials do (69%).

And the younger workers are, the more they prefer a boss who’s “direct” and has a sense of humor: Among different age groups, “directness” is most important to Millennials (43%), as is “humor” (34%).

All that talk about Southern hospitality and manners? Maybe it doesn’t translate to the workplace. A thoughtful boss was least important in the South (26%) and most important in the West (41%).

As for those stereotypes about the laid-back West Coast? Maybe there’s something to them. A goal-oriented boss isn’t as important to those living in the West (26%) as it is to those in the Northeast (45%), Midwest (51%) and South (48%). 

What about that workplace buzzword “transparency”? It isn’t as important in the Midwest (17%) as it is in the South (31%). 

In a press release, Kronos highlighted these findings among U.S. workers:

A large majority of employees (69%) say their managers set a good example, agreeing they are ethical, honest, collaborative, creative, empowering, innovative, dedicated and trustworthy.

Given the choice between a manager who is a high achiever but demanding, or one who’s nice but ineffective, 75% chose the former.

When respondents ranked the three most important attributes of a good manager, honesty was at the top (78%), followed by goal-oriented (44%) and compassionate (40%).

Asked if they’d prefer a manager who invests in their professional development or one who invests in programs to make work more fun, 61% chose the former, while 39% chose the latter.

Four out of 10 employees (43%) prefer direct individual praise from managers, 32% favor praise from their manager’s manager, and 25% prefer praise in front of peers. Indians are most likely (39%) to want recognition among peers.

“One of the interesting aspects of this survey is that U.S. employees would choose a high-performing and demanding boss over a nice but ineffective one,” said Sharlyn Lauby, president of ITM Group Inc. “In the same vein, they'd prefer a manager who invests in their professional development over one who invests in making a fun working environment. Employees are saying they don't need their boss to be their best friend; rather, it's important to them that they are able to work effectively, be challenged and grow.”

Dana Wilkie is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

© 2013, Society for Human Resource Management.

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