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Managers and Employees: Exploring the Great Divide

Written By: Tony Meyers

Director of Human Resources at US Tool


New national research uncovers insights around the perception and communication gaps that exist between managers and their direct reports.

2018 Ultimate Software and The Center for Generational Kinetics.


  • Study Results and The Manager Relationship is Key for Employees
  • Communication and Trust are Vital
  • The Employee/Manager Disconnect
  • The Lack of Leadership Training and Feedback
  • The Changing Workforce

Results and Relationships are Key:

Employee engagement research is full of evidence highlighting the central role of the manager to employee satisfaction and retention. Unfortunately, while many employers and executive teams understand this concept in theory, it is far more difficult to modify and improve on a practical level.

As with any relationship, managers and employees approach their interactions from very different viewpoints and backgrounds, which often results in starkly contrasting takeaways and frequent misinterpretations. Understanding this missing link in the connection between employees and managers is the impetus behind this research. Identifying the causes of this common divide among managers and the people they lead is crucial for the health and growth of an organization in every sense of the word, from achieving full productivity to retaining top talent.

Ultimate Software and The Center for Generational Kinetics are pleased to partner on this groundbreaking national research.

It doesn’t require much work experience for an employee to start seeing the differences among managing styles – Good Managers and Poor ones, or to develop a preference for certain managers over others. For some time, employee engagement research has highlighted the positive correlation between a good manager relationship and happy employees.

However, it turns out that this positive relationship is far more than emotional. It can actually carry more weight than money, due to the value employees place on an excellent boss. The national study found that more than half of employees would turn down a 10% pay increase to stay with a boss they like and respect. What constitutes an excellent boss?

Through the research, hands down, employees think the top trait of an effective manager is approachability. While this is important to employees in a manager, it also remains an opportunity for managers to improve.

While 82% of employees say approachability is the top quality of an effective manager,

only 57% of employees say their manager is approachable.

GOOD MANAGERS MATTER -- We must improve!

Positive relationships are built on open communication, and this holds as true in the workplace as in any other setting. Since the manager relationship is so important to employees, the ability to be open is a necessary ingredient for this connection to thrive. When it comes to voicing concerns at work, most employees are not shy about doing so. The national study found that 54% of employees and 61% of managers feel comfortable communicating major concerns at work.

Still, what is perhaps even more important is what happens once these concerns are addressed. With this next step, managers appear to be doing a good job of responding. A full 7 out of 10 employees believe their managers address their concerns by taking some sort of action. Attentive responses like these can help build trust; another essential ingredient for healthy employee/manager relationships.


How this trust is shown or felt, however, is another matter entirely. The good news is that trust is most effectively shown by managers and received by employees in the same ways; namely through the freedom to prioritize work assignments and to have schedule flexibility.

Nonetheless, there still remains some disconnect among managers and employees in the area of trust. Only 1 in 3 employees feel trusted when they need to report work tasks to their manager, but fewer than 1 in 4 managers feel this is a way to show trust.

The research shows that the majority of managers are doing fairly well fostering open communication, as more than half of employees feel comfortable voicing concerns at work. The majority also feel their managers take some sort of action as a result.

How are you doing with being open, understanding and acting on the concerns provided by your employees?


Diversity of idea and opinion: Every human interaction has multiple points of view, often as many as the number of people involved. When it comes to managers and employees, this dynamic remains soundly intact, as these two groups have separate and often notably different perspectives.

Managers see themselves as fair, transparent, and effective in their roles, but employees don’t necessarily agree. While 82% of manager’s report being transparent with their teams, only 50% of employees feel their managers are transparent. But the disconnect doesn’t stop there.

In fact, although 71% of managers say they know how to motivate direct reports, only 42% of employees think their manager knows how to motivate the team. While communication in some areas may be strong, other areas need improvement. For instance, 75% of managers say they care deeply about the wellbeing of their direct reports, but only 53% agree, 47% of employees do NOT think this is true.


The “he said, she said” dynamic is alive and well in the employee/manager relationship, as these two parties frequently have vastly different takes on their interactions, even including how the manager performs his or her job. Furthermore, the vast majority of employees often view their managers as unnecessary for their job.

The disconnect between employees and managers can be so vast as to render the relationship seemingly unnecessary in the eyes of the employee. This reality is indicated by the astonishing fact that 80% of employees feel they could do their job without their manager!

This could be the result of any number of factors, but training and mentoring in leadership effectiveness are at the top of the list.

The national study uncovered that oftentimes, managers are simply not getting the support they need to become better leaders. Less than half of managers (48%) have a mentor who helps them become a better leader. But almost as many (47%) say they have not been provided and they would like formal training on how to be an effective leader/manager.


It isn’t just a lack of training or mentoring that is affecting manager/employee relationships. Both managers and employees suffer from a lack of feedback.  Almost 6 out of 10 managers wish employees would say what’s on their mind, but employees often aren’t given enough opportunities to speak up. Only 29% of employees have a manager who asks for their ideas and opinions or includes them in decisions or strategy. Additionally, only 35% of employees believe they can be completely honest with their manager. As a result, managers are sometimes unaware of the issues on their teams.

Less than half of leaders have a mentor that helps them become a better leader.

BOTTOM LINE: Provide Managers training, coaching and mentoring on how to be effective leaders.

Also, the lack of feedback from employees is also an issue managers face. Although most would like more input from their employees, most employees don’t feel welcome or able to share this information.


We’re a long way from the workforce of decades past, where longevity and years of tenure at a company was the norm and reciprocity on the part of the company was expected and received by the employee. This model has been shifting for some time, and we have arrived at a day when a “career” is no longer limited to a single company, actually multiple companies. More than 1/3 of employees believe a career means becoming a subject-matter expert regardless of the company. Also, more than 1/3 of employees believe that a career signifies doing what they enjoy, even if it means taking a step back to learn something new.

But is this new definition of a career desirable?

It turns out that when employees are asked to describe their ideal career, it looks very similar to what they describe as currently happening. Being a known expert in one’s field is top on employees’ list, with 40% saying this constitutes the ideal career. The second description of an ideal career is similar to the first in that it aids an employee in becoming an expert. Thirty-eight percent of employees describe the ideal career as staying with one or several organizations that allow them to grow and learn.

In the modern workforce environment, where employees no longer see staying with a single company as the practical or ideal way to build a career, what does this mean for the concept of job loyalty? Close to half of employees (47%) say job loyalty is independent of longevity. Rather, loyalty means giving 100% to the company while an employee is there.

WHAT DOES THE IDEAL CAREER LOOK LIKE? 47% say being recognized as an industry or field expert 38% say staying with one or several organizations that allow me to grow and learn

How will you and your organization adapt and change based on this information and these new trends?