What The Survey Results Are Telling You

A recent survey commissioned by Lynn Taylor Consulting presents ample food for thought.

“It’s all in the packaging” applies to more than the latest irresistible gift you bought. It also has a lot to do with how you package your actions and verbal communications at work. Case in point: an independent study we released recently showed that employees spend 19.2 hours in a seven-day week (13 hours during the work week and 6.2 hours on the weekend) worrying about what their boss said or did!

“What could it lead to? What should I do? How should I present myself, what words and actions could help me advance in my job, or at least make sure it is still mine tomorrow?” This survey’s respondents ask themselves those questions, as well as many of my readers who want to learn to “manage up” – a skill that comes in very handy if one has to deal with a difficult boss, especially in difficult times. If one works for such a boss – a TOT (Terrible Office Tyrant) – it is very important to develop an approach that will allow to defuse difficult situations, keep balance in the workplace, and make sure productivity doesn’t suffer.

While the latter part of the study – verbatim responses from U.S. employees – is more lighthearted, it does speak eloquently about the unfortunate morale-dampening atmosphere of many offices today that resemble a corporate playpen, rather than productive work environment. It certainly shows that there’s room for improvement. But let’s first take a look at what people need to save their current jobs.

In a national independent study of 586 employees commissioned by Lynn Taylor Consulting, we asked, “What techniques do you believe work for employees who must ‘manage up’ with childish bosses?” Here’s how their answers ranked:

1. Strong listening and communications skills

2. Demonstrating calm under pressure

3. Being a good role model for leadership and respect

4. Proactive problem solving

5. Working around a boss’s strength’s and weaknesses

6. Using humor

7. Showing empathy

Analysis of this research lead me to my favorite acronym which is a formula not only for saving your job – which certainly helps during a period of 10 percent unemployment – but also for thriving in it. It’s called “CALM”Communicate (openly, honestly and frequently); Anticipate (be aware of potential problems and stop them from escalating by offering proactive solutions); Laugh (use levity to diffuse tension and create a bonding atmosphere; and Manage (manage up, or “parent” without patronizing, by using positive and negative reinforcement with certain behaviors, e.g., by setting limits to poor behavior).

How to Lose Your Job

Those who consider themselves mavericks, need that extra push to become self-reliant entrepreneurs, or always wanted to know what it’s like to burn the bridges – those can follow the lead of what some employees dream of saying at work! In a related study, we asked employees to state what they would say to bosses who slip into “TOTdom” (childish behavior), if there was no reprisal.

This is not to say that all employees or support teams aren’t capable of behaving like TOTs themselves! If you subscribe to the theory that we all share the same basic human instincts, needs and fears, then it stands to reason that TOTs run across the org chart, whether we’re two or 52. With that caveat in mind, here’s what employees would say (in their dreams) to TOTs, in order of priority:

1. Why don’t we compromise? (P.S. This is the only phraseology that does work with both children and managers!)

2. I can’t hear you when you shout!

3. Stop whining!

4. That’s not allowed!

5. I’m leaving!

6. You’re cranky; do you need a nap?

7. Go to your room; you’re getting a time out!

8. If you ask one more time, you’ll never get that!

9. Are you teething or do you just need a cookie?

For now, suppressing that “maverick” impulse and saving one’s job might be a better choice for most people, though many of them may be just buying time and looking for greener pastures. Humor surely helps you get through the day, and these nine phrases gave our respondents at least some temporary solace. But there is a serious side to it, and a sobering reality behind it: we all – managers and employees alike – can occasionally fall into TOTishness and unwittingly throw a wrench into what is supposed to be a smooth-running machine. So we all need to be aware of this potential pitfall and have the wherewithal to deal with it.