How Manager Behaviors Influence Teams

There are a lot of concepts in the HR space, far too many to list. Among them: this idea of balance; finding the right mixture between people, ideas, and/or concepts. To narrow the topic down, let’s focus on the balance between managers and their teams, specifically the idea of managerial behavior and its impact on the workforce.

It’s not easy being a manager. The people in these positions are often tasked with many different responsibilities, i.e. coordinating different teams, aligning projects, and, in some instances, providing professional development for employees. One task, however, that is often overlooked is the managers’ impact on the members of his or her team, specifically, the influence of behavior whether positive or negative.

That influence can be positive and it can be negative.

Sending the Wrong Message

In a recent national survey, Ultimate Software and the Center for Generational Kinetics found 80% of employees said they could do their job without their managers. According to, it’s part of a trend showing organizations today are run by managers who aren’t…

“…good leaders, leading to disengaged employees, mediocre performance and higher attrition.”

If that’s not enough, a manager’s work habits can, from time to time, have an undesirable effect on employees and their working culture. Working after hours is an example. Whether intentional or not, employees may interpret this as, “When I’m on, you need to be too.” Research conducted by Microsoft Workplace Analytics seems to back this up. There is a correlation between the amount of time managers send email after hours and the amount of time their subordinates do the same.

Manager and secretary working in the office

According to the Harvard Business Review, in a Fortune 100 technology company for every hour a managers spent working after-hours an employee that reported to them spent 20 minutes working after-hours. This is where the impact of the behavior can turn negative.

The General Social Survey conducted research on the topic. 48% of employees who work sometimes or often say the actions interfered with family life. To add support to the statement Gallup research found,

“U.S. workers who email for work and who spend more hours working remotely outside of normal working hours are more likely to experience a substantial amount of stress on any given day than workers who do not exhibit these behaviors.”

If not monitored closely, employees working longer days can also have legal ramifications to a company. The U.S. Department of Labor has several laws determining business accountability requirements, including the Fair Labor Standards Act. The FLSA, however, does not define full-time employment status. That is defined by employers. To further complicate the issue, state and federal rules must be followed by employers and those differ by state. For example, California defines full-time as 40 hours per week. Hawaii, on the other hand, says anyone working over 20 hours per week is considered full-time.

Another example of managers’ behavior that may illicit an unwanted response from employees: multitasking in meetings.

Again, according to Microsoft Workplace Analytics, managers who do this are 2.2 times more likely to influence subordinates to do the same. The effect of this on employees includes distraction. Parts of the conversations happening in the meeting may be lost creating a difficulty in understanding what took place, critical guidance, or the inability to consistently follow through actions directed in the meeting. It also could send the message that the time or contributions made by co-workers and employees are not valued.

How Does HR Respond?

According to Gallup research, managers’ actions account for 70% of the change in employee engagement. A disengaged employees is costly; up to $500 billion annually in productivity costs. Gallup reports one way to turn those numbers around is communication. Consistent communication equals higher engagement levels. This includes face-to-face, phone, and other forms of communication.

Confident business people (2)

In terms of communication, HR professionals can suggest managers:

  1. Discuss expectations with the team. Managers should express their personal working habits should not influence the team’s working habits. In other words, “Just because I do it, doesn’t mean you have to do it too.”
  2. When managers compose emails after hours, ask that those be set to send during regular-business hours or just save the draft for the next working day.
  3. Make sure meetings your managers are invited to, their attendance is necessary. If not, ask to leave the meeting.
  4. Have managers cluster their meetings during certain parts of the day. This allows the manager to focus on meetings and have plenty of time to tend to other tasks at a later time.

It is important to note these behaviors are not indicators of a good or bad manager. Nonetheless, it is important to deal with the problems and avoid issues that may arise if left unchecked.

Positive Impacts

It’s easy to focus on the negative sometimes, but there is plenty of evidence showing managers can and do have a positive influence on employees.

Take morale, for instance. Managers who are professional and communicate well with subordinates, who push them to reach their goal, and motivate them, will foster a team’s drive to come to work and work hard everyday.

As is the same with negative impact, employees who see managers’ dedication, positive attitude, and high performance will mimic those attributes.