WEIRD WEDNESDAY: 10/16/08 Is National Boss Day (Unless You Work For A “Seagull Manager”)

Today’s Weird Wednesday article is written by Dr. Travis Bradberry, an award-winning author whose works have been endorsed by significant thinkers including The Dalai Lama and Stephen Covey.

When Patricia Bays Haroski registered “National Boss’s Day” with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in 1958, she wasn’t playing a practical joke, or even sucking up. She was working as her father’s secretary in a State Farm Insurance office in Deerfield, IL. Haroski wanted to let her father know she appreciated his willingness to go the extra mile and provide the attention and support his employees needed, even when a host of other priorities competed for his attention. Haroski chose her father’s birthday, October 16th, for the holiday because she believed a great boss should be celebrated with the same positive regard and enthusiasm typically reserved for his or her birthday.

But most Americans just don’t have much to celebrate on National Boss’s Day—particularly during the current volatile times. According to a recent study published in Human Resource Executive magazine, a third of U.S. workers spend a minimum of 20 hours per month in the office complaining about their boss.

Things aren’t any better overseas. After reading a study that found employees have lower blood pressure on the days they worked for a supervisor they think is fair, researchers from the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health decided to take a closer look at this phenomenon. They followed British civil servants for a period of 15 years to see if the type of boss one works for has any impact upon long-term, physical health.

The team from Helsinki found that employees working for a bad boss were 30% more likely to develop coronary heart disease than those who did not. What’s more, the incidence of coronary heart disease–the #1 killer in Western societies–was measured after the researchers had removed the influence of typical risk factors, such as age, ethnicity, marital status, educational attainment, socio-economic position, cholesterol level, obesity, hypertension, smoking, alcohol consumption, and physical activity.

The Gallup Poll estimates US corporations lose 360 billion dollars annually due to lost productivity from employees who are dissatisfied with–you guessed it–their boss. And if there’s but one hard truth the Gallup Polls have taught U.S. corporations in the last decade, it’s that people may join companies, but they will leave bosses.

In the days of a strong dollar, bulging tech bubble and robust housing market, people working for a bad boss had options. Careers were mobile and talent was in short supply. It was a snap to pack up and leave. But nowadays, things are decidedly different. Jobs are scarce and workers are staying put, even those stuck under what I like to call “the seagull manager.”

Instead of taking the time to get the facts straight and work alongside their staff to realize a viable solution, seagull managers swoop in at the last minute, squawk at everybody, and deposit steaming piles of formulaic advice before abruptly taking off and leaving behind an even bigger mess than when they started. Seagulls interact with their employees only when there’s a fire to put out. Even then, they move in and out so hastily–and put so little thought into their approach–that they make bad situations worse by frustrating and alienating those who need them the most.

Today, seagull managers are breeding like wildfire. As companies flatten in response to the struggling economy, they are gutting management layers and leaving behind managers with more autonomy, greater responsibility, and more people to manage. That means they have less time and less accountability for managing people. It’s easy to spot a seagull manager when you’re on the receiving end of the airborne dumps, but the manager doing the swooping, squawking, and dumping is often unaware of the negative impact of his or her behavior.

If “seagull manager” doesn’t describe your boss, you are one of the lucky ones who actually have something to celebrate on National Boss’s Day. If you are unfortunate enough to be working for a seagull manager, perhaps a copy of this article should find its way onto his or her desk on National Boss’s Day.

Of course, if you think you might have succumbed to some seagull behaviors in the last year, it isn’t too late to turn things around. Give the following five strategies a try, and you just might get a gift next year on National Boss’s Day:

1. Don’t Pass the Buck: When you set expectations for your staff, make sure you’re the one explaining what will be expected of them–don’t pass the buck to someone else.

2. Check In Everyday: Make your communication with your team frequent and sincere. You can’t help people get results if you don’t know how they’re doing.

3. Block Time to do Your Real Job: Schedule time in your calendar each day where you can be up and out of your desk, focusing solely on the needs of your team. Remember, as a manager, the primary purpose of your job is managing people.

4. Leave Your Door Open: Seagull managers lose touch partially because they’re not approachable.

5. Show Them the Way: When it comes to managing performance, balance praise with constructive criticism. Your team needs you to show them when they’re doing things right, as well as when they’re off track.