Bad Bosses Ruin Great Jobs. Check Out the Manager Before You Take That Job

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There’s a phrase that has been echoing in career-advice circles for years: “People don’t leave companies; they leave managers.” It hits home for Debi Campbell, a former producer for a major cable network.

In retrospect, there were a couple of red flags she ignored during the interview with her manager.

“I could tell in the interview that we had very different personalities,” Campbell says.

Something about it just seemed off. But it was a dream job, and she was excited for the work. Besides, no interview is perfect, right?

But as Campbell later learned, her gut was right. Something was indeed off. Her boss started micro-managing her to the point of clocking the amount of time Campbell spent at her desk, and the dream job deteriorated into a nightmare.

It’s difficult to overstate the impact managers have on not just our workplace enjoyment but also on our overall well-being in life, yet people are still being placed into managerial roles for all the wrong reasons.

“A good manager can make a bad job bearable,” says management expert Victor Lipman. “And a bad manager can make a good job miserable.” Lipman is the author of “The Type B Manager: Leading Successfully in a Type A World” and frequently contributes to Psychology Today, Harvard Business Review and Forbes.

Considering you will spend a large portion of your waking hours at work under the reign of your manager, their impact on your life shouldn’t be overlooked. That’s why you should vet them early. The interview stage is a great opportunity to do just that.

The Importance of Managers on Your Work and Life

Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace study found that 85% of workers are not engaged or are actively disengaged from their work. “Actively disengaged” means that people are so unenthused about their jobs that they are spreading their discontent to their coworkers. The major culprit? Managers.

The research shows that managers account for 70% of an employee’s engagement at work. Gallup defines “employee engagement” in a specific way.

Vipula Gandhi, managing partner at Gallup, breaks it down into three main parts: emotional connection, inspiration and motivation in your work. Basically, she says, engaged employees want “to go that extra mile” and that they’re “not spending time on job sites looking for options.”

If your manager happens to be actively disengaged, that’s when it can start to affect your personal life.

“If something is really wrong at work… it overlaps your life outside of work,” Lipman says.

Campbell says her experience with her abusive boss had huge effects on her personal life.

“I felt so out of control, and I was completely drained of confidence,” she says. “I feel like I lost out on valuable time with my family because I was so wrapped up in my stressful work environment.“

That rings especially true for the largest portion of the workforce, Generation Y (aka Millennials). They can’t just leave their work problems at the door, research shows.

“This generation does not distinguish between ‘my life’ and ‘my job,’” Gandhi says, citing Gallup’s report on Millennials in the workplace.

The lines are becoming blurred as more people look to find fulfillment through their work. The simple answer to avoid those headaches is to look for a good manager during the job hunt so you can better enjoy your job (and by extension, your life).

But what exactly makes a good manager?

Knowing What Makes a Good Manager

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In Lipman’s book and in several of his articles, he draws a distinction between what he calls “Type A” and “Type B” managers.

The Type A managers are “the old school command-and-control type,” he says. The traits associated with this type of management style are the more stereotypical traits that come to mind when people think of the word “manager” or “boss.” These managers are authoritative, tough and executive.

But this idea of management is slowly changing.

“Most people don’t like being treated that way,” Lipman says. “They respond better to the carrot than the stick.”

“There are more effective ways to get results than micromanaging people and beating them up, figuratively,” he added.

On the other hand, Type B managers are masters of people skills. And in today’s economy, they’re the ones who are better at getting results from employees.

But Gandhi says that these types of managers are still very much in the minority. She says institutional flaws cause people to get promoted into managerial roles because they were good at the technical skills in their individual roles.

“But the skills, knowledge and talent required [to manage] are completely different,” Gandhi says.

That’s where those Type B people skills really come in. Earlier this year, The Predictive Index released results of more than 4,000 employees’ survey responses across 22 industries in a report called The People Management Survey.

Respondents overwhelmingly want their managers to have skills like confidence, honesty and a sense of humor. They also want their managers to give recognition.

Thad Peterson, a member of the research team for The People Management Survey, points out that none of those responses include technical skills.

“Most of those items are totally within people’s control,” Peterson says. “People can choose to work hard, tell the truth, relax enough to have fun and choose to have a positive disposition.”

Both Gandhi and Peterson mentioned a few other soft skills like self-awareness and talent to help people grow, noting that providing ongoing feedback is a critical part of being a good manager.

“Feedback should not be a surprise; it should be expected,” Gandhi says. And If it isn’t, “you haven’t done a good job at having those ongoing conversations.”

What to Look For in a Manager During a Job Interview

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The best time to analyze managers is ideally before you’re stuck with them — namely, during the job interview. That’s when you have the most control as an employee, especially in times of a labor shortage and a tight job market.

Job interviews are nerve-racking times. It’s easy to get so wrapped up in making a good impression that you forget the most important part: gauging if the job is going to be a good fit for you. Knowing what questions to ask during an interview works in two ways: It helps you gain insight into your employer, and it shows that you’re interested in the company.

“I firmly believe that an interview should be just as much about a candidate interviewing the company as the other way around,” Peterson says. “So I’d ask pointed questions of a potential manager.”

Be on the lookout for indicators of these traits during the interview:

  • Self-awareness
  • A good work ethic
  • Positivity
  • A deep understanding of the company
  • Giving ongoing feedback
  • A sense of humor

For example, if a potential manager goes on long tangents or doesn’t give ample time for you to respond, they’re probably not self-aware or good at feedback.

“You want to get a sense of their management style,” Lipman says. “You want to get a sense of how they relate to employees, what their expectations are.”

Are they micromanagers? Are they hands-off? Do they treat the employees well?

“No one’s going to admit to [being] a micromanager,” Lipman says, “but you can get at that in a more oblique way.”

So instead of asking your potential manager if they have a tendency to micromanage their team, Lipman suggests phrasing questions like: How involved do you tend to be on a day-to-day basis? How do you motivate your team? How do you manage projects?     

Campbell also comes equipped to interviews with questions to ensure she doesn’t fall into the same trap again.   

“I directly ask them what their managing style is and how much autonomy they give their staff,” she says. “I really try to listen to my gut — kind of like a first date — and I internally ask myself if I am clicking with this person.”

Based on Gandhi’s personal experience, she recommends asking about the career progression of a high performer who started in your role. It may not always be possible to physically meet that person during the interview, but the answer to the question is indicative. She also recommends reaching out to alumni via LinkedIn for unbiased feedback about the company’s managers and culture before the interview.

If the manager doesn’t give you designated time to ask questions in the first place, that’s a red flag. Sometimes, you might not have a direct manager in the interview. That may be reason enough to head for the hills.

“It’s classic management theory: You should have one manager, one person you report to,” Lipman says. “You’re doing a great disservice to the manager and the employee if the manager is not involved.”

Remember, you will be spending a large portion of your life with your next manager. If you have concerns during the interview stage, those problems won’t disappear simply because you took the job. Don’t let the glamour of the company or the job title be the deciding factor.

“It’s all about the manager,” Gandhi says.

Adam Hardy is a staff writer for The Penny Hoarder. He lives off a diet of stale puns and iced coffee. Read his full bio here , or say hi on Twitter @hardyjournalism.