How To Become A Better Boss

By Greg Nathan posted August 29, 2023

We’ve all seen the pendulum effect in business. It starts with an incident and a realisation that something needs to change. But instead of developing sensible steps to improve things, a suite of heavy-handed rules or policies are introduced. This results in a swing too far the other way, creating unnecessary disruption and heralding a new range of problems. 

Why trying to ban bad bosses is a bad idea

In my view, recent changes to Australian State and Federal Government workplace laws, intended to create greater psychosocial health and safety in workplaces, are an example of this pendulum effect. Psychosocial factors are the things that impact on our state of mind and, as you can imagine, can be very subjective.

Of course, people should not be expected to put up with workplaces that are clearly dangerous to their physical or mental health. And unfortunately, bad bosses, high-stress environments and unhealthy cultures exist more than they should. But is legislating for businesses to create psychologically safe workplaces a solution?

Over the years I have been outspoken about the importance of leaders paying attention to psychosocial factors for creating healthy business cultures where people can thrive and do their best work. An environment where people feel unsupported, and unsafe to express their ideas or be themselves, is usually bad for business as it leads to high staff turnover, poor customer service and a lack of innovation. For this reason, ongoing professional development in 'people skills' for managers and leaders should be an integral part of every business.

I understand that manager education is not a panacea if there are systemic problems where staff have to deal with prolonged under-resourcing, aggressive clients or unrealistic targets. But trying to legislate for the improvement of workplace cultures is, in my opinion, unlikely to solve these problems. The main beneficiaries are likely to be lawyers and workplace occupational health and safety consultants who are paid to protect their clients from potential prosecution. 

11 psychosocial hazards the Government wants to regulate

The latest legislation by the Federal Government's Safe Work Australia, ironically launched on April 1, lists 11 psychosocial workplace hazards. These include putting staff in situations where there are high work demands, poor supervision, lack of consultation, poor management of change, unfair decision-making, a lack of role clarity, being isolated, working under unpleasant conditions, bullying behaviour, exposure to potentially traumatic events, or inadequate reward and recognition. 

Business psychologists have long researched how these factors diminish morale and performance. Most managers and business owners also understand the benefits of creating an empathetic and caring work environment that is inclusive and supportive. After all, if they don’t, their staff are likely to leave. This is the beauty and essence of a free enterprise society.  While there are some areas where government intervention is useful - this is not one of them.

10 tips to be a better boss

Let’s get the balance right and invest in education rather than legislation. In this spirit, here are 10 tips for anyone who wants to be a better boss and create a more psychologically safe workplace.

#1. Despite the pressures you may feel to get things done, take time to acknowledge your team and thank them each day for their contributions. You'd be surprised how much these simple gestures are appreciated, and how often they are neglected.

#2. Provide as much certainty as possible about your expectations. And if you can't because of organisational change or market volatility, explain this and keep them updated through regular Q&A sessions.

#3. Ensure your expectations around workload are fair. Be careful not to unreasonably push people if you need to make additional requests of their time, and respect their right to decline.

#4. Don’t take advantage of your team’s goodwill to do the right thing for the business or customers. If they are regularly doing extra, ensure you also do the right thing by offering additional benefits or time off.

#5. Involve them in decisions that impact on them. And encourage them to speak up and share their ideas and insights to improve customer service, business processes and culture.

#6. Openly share goals, plans, and details on the performance of the business. If you treat your team as valued stakeholders, they are more likely to act like valued stakeholders.

#7. Provide opportunities for their ongoing personal and professional development. Share relevant books and articles, and allow time for them to attend courses and participate in peer coaching sessions.

#8. Facilitate friendships and trusted relationships between your team. If they are regularly having to deal with difficult client situations, encourage peer debriefing and ensure you are available if more support is needed.

#9. Look for opportunities to match each team member's talents with their roles. Also, find out about their aspirations and try to provide a career path that accommodates this.

#10. Demonstrate a growth mindset by striving to improve as a manager and seeking feedback through informal conversations or regular team surveys. Ask what you are doing well and how you could create a more satisfying environment.

By the way, anyone who has managed others will have had their bad boss moments. We've all made bad calls and we all experience unhelpful emotions that sometimes cloud our judgement. I know I've been a pain at times for my team. The good news is they have usually told me, and I continue to try and do better. I find this to be a more meaningful source of motivation than having a government bureaucrat breathing down my neck.

Until next time, let’s all continue to strive to be better bosses.

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