The number one driver of employee satisfaction has nothing to do with job descriptions, goal achievement or even commute time. Make no mistake, these things are important. But the thing that really moves the needle on your satisfaction at work?
Your relationship with your boss.
I take the old adage, “People don’t quit jobs, they quit bosses” with a grain of salt. I’ve had the good fortune of having really terrific direct supervisors throughout my career, and I’ve had more than one job. But as I look back on those relationships, their success was built on establishing our communication norms, agreeing on priorities, and occasionally adjusting work styles so that each party got what they needed from each other. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was “managing up”.
In the traditional sense, managing up is doing what you can to make your boss’s job easier; basically, “managing your manager”. Managing up means understanding and adapting to your boss’s communication and decision-making style. As you think about how you might do this, keep in mind these generational considerations:
If your boss is a Baby Boomer
Generally speaking, Baby Boomer workers tend to be motivated by recognition, and title and rank are important. For their employees, this means respecting the chain of command (I’m talkin’ to you Millennials). Boomers came of age in a workplace that valued seat/face time, throughput and productivity. If you work in a flexible or remote environment, it’s a good idea to check in often and keep your boss informed of project statuses routinely.
When it comes to asking for what you need, framing it in the context of “my success is your success” may be a sound approach. If your Boomer boss has been at your workplace for a long time, tapping into that institutional history can help guide your decision-making and even generate new ideas.
If your boss is a GenX-er
Don’t believe the stereotype—GenXers are anything but slackers. As a generation, they are known as pragmatic, independent and outcome-focused. At work, that sometimes can read as negative and cynical. During their time in the workplace, technology and business processes evolved at a rapid pace and they had to work hard to keep current. GenX leaders often appreciate employees who are self-starters and who are willing to take a project as far as they can on their own before asking for guidance.
That being said, as an employee of a Generation X boss, you may need or desire more frequent feedback or collaboration. Coming to an agreement on the frequency and types of interactions is important. Helping your supervisor understand how your requests are tied to specific outcomes and tasks can also strengthen your position.
If your boss is a Millennial
I was 29 when I first became a supervisor. I was also the youngest person on my team. Not gonna lie—it was sometimes weird. The oldest Millennials are in their mid-30s and are rapidly climbing the corporate ladder—leading teams, initiatives, and even whole organizations. And yet they may, as I did, feel intimidated by your level of experience.
Millennials were raised on group projects and the importance of teamwork. They value open and free-flowing communication, strong collaboration and flat organizational charts. More than any generation before them, they changed the way that organizations approach work—shifting the thinking from work as a specific location and time of day to simply “that which gets done”. Rapid advances in technology have allowed for greater work flexibility, which Millennials value and embrace. However, it has also contributed to “always on” workplace cultures and heightened response time expectations.
To get the most out of your Millennial boss, let them know you consider them a partner. If you do have more work experience than your supervisor, position yourself as a resource for them to gain institutional history and share your knowledge. If you do find yourself in an “always on” dynamic, suggest to your boss that agreeing on some boundaries will ensure your availability and productivity.
Managing up should not be confused with manipulation or “sucking up”. That is not what managing up is about. Rather, it’s an investment of energy into an important relationship so that it can be productive and healthy.
Management should always be a two-way street. Good leaders want to set their employees up to succeed, and good employees want to make their bosses look like rock stars. Managing up is figuring out how to make that happen.