Keeping the boss happy is important, Grownups, but don’t sacrifice your own happiness for theirs—balance is the key, and the Debt Free Guys have some suggestions for getting you there.
Your relationship with your boss is critical: Work is a significant component of life, and business relationships have a profound influence on careers and personal relationships.
A good relationship with a boss often means the work environment is a happy one, a place where we can thrive and grow both personally and professionally. A bad relationship with the boss brings stress and a lack of satisfaction. It often means we don’t have opportunities to perform at our best, which can limit career advancements.
John and I have both had good and bad bosses. From our experiences, there are four key behaviors that can foster good relationships between employees and managers:
- No One Wants to Play the Heavy
Bosses want to avoid uncomfortable encounters with their bosses: They too want to look good in front of their bosses and peers, and their performance also affects their career and financial goals.
It’s easy to other (alienate) managers and assume they’re different. Managers are driven by two factors: the avoidance of pain and the desire to be liked. Freud referred to this strategy as The Pleasure Principle—humans, bosses, and employees alike are driven by pleasure and pain.
From our experience, most bosses prefer to avoid uncomfortable confrontations with their employees—they don’t like to reprimand employees or give negative feedback. It’s more fun to encourage employees with financial rewards and other incentives than to dole out pink slips.
A good analogy is the parent-child relationship. Parents prefer to spend fun, quality time with their children. Though it’s sometimes necessary, it’s not enjoyable to have to scold or punish children. Bosses prefer to have functional relationships with their employees just as parents prefer to have good, healthy relationships with their children.
A good boss-employee relationship helps the employee perform better which, in turn, makes the boss look better. A recent study suggests that happy employees are between 12 to 20 percent more productive than unhappy employees.
- Recognize Your Shared Concerns
John and I have both been employees and bosses.
No matter how successful we were and how high we climbed the corporate ladder, we were only as successful as our last project or review. When we achieved one raise or promotion, we set our sights on the next raise or promotion.
How does this apply to our relationship with our boss? We found it helpful to understand that our boss has the same concerns we do: job security. A VP I worked with once told me that he felt his position was just as tenuous as when he was hired as an assistant.
Understanding this, we’ve found that the best way to help our bosses manage their concerns of losing their job or not obtaining their next promotion is to manage up. When we do this, we equip our bosses with the tools and opportunities to make the best decisions.
By manage up we mean that we keep our boss informed of customer concerns and give recommendations from the front-line employee perspective. It’s often the front-line employees who first notice unhappy customers. Understanding customer interactions with employees is necessary for management to mold their business to their clients’ needs.
The more successful our boss is with each decision they make, the better they look to their boss. The more we can facilitate this as employees, the better it is for our boss and us.
- Dictate Your Response
There have been times when John or I have let stress from our jobs get us into arguments—usually stupid arguments.
We’ve sat at a desk for 10 hours straight with only the occasional restroom break. We’ve skipped meals, time with friends and family, and neglected our health because of a job. These were all chosen behaviors.
Regardless of what our boss says or does, it’s up to us to decide how we respond. Our boss only has the power that we give them. It’s easy for me to sit here and write about taking the high road by controlling how one responds to negative feedback from a boss—I understand that’s easier said than done.
But if I need to relieve stress, only I can reduce my stress. If I need time with friends and family, it’s up to me to make the effort to spend time with them. If I need a better work/life balance, it’s my responsibility to correct the balance. Unfortunately, sometimes the only way to adjust our work/life balance is to walk away.
- Know When To Walk Away
We only live once. Wasting time in stressful or negative situations is detrimental to life and happiness. Neglecting our relationships and our selves hurts the most important parts of the human experience.
John had a boss once who thrived on negativity, and no matter what he did, he could never please her. This poor work relationship affected every aspect of John’s life. He stopped exercising, his diet suffered, and he took uncharacteristically long naps on the weekends. By all accounts, he was in a depressive state.
John’s job situation and his depression affected our relationship. We weren’t as emotionally and spiritually connected—and because of this, our love life suffered.
This was when we learned it’s sometimes best to walk away from a bad situation. Ultimately, John leaving his job was the only solution that improved his emotional and physical state.
As scary as it was for John to quit his job and essentially cut our income in half, it was worth it. Though our bank account balance went down a little, our life balance flourished. John and I are happier now. In hindsight, we don’t know why we tolerated such a stressful situation for as long as we did.