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Leaders
New
Coming to Terms with Being the
Boss
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By Theresa Wynn
Feature
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Intro to you: After a few (or many) years you’re finally coming up in your career. You proved your competency in your previous role and have been granted the opportunity to supervise another team member(s). This is your chance to exercise your leadership muscles, accomplish your company’s goals, and qualify for the next upgrade in pay and title. No pressure!
But definitely pressure. How you perform as a supervisor can make or break your upward career trajectory (and your self-confidence). What is more, it can make or break the upward trajectory of the people who report to you.

What’s different for First-Time Supervisors?

In addition to learning the logistical systems and policy parameters of your role, a First-Time Supervisor is managing a shift in identity and relational dynamics. Now that you have a direct report(s), you’re no longer “Jenny from the Block”. You are a representative of the leadership culture of your entire company and are privy to decision-making and confidential information that critically impacts your direct reports. Regardless of how friendly or personable you are, there is a power dynamic in play. You need to be intentional about boundaries, privacy, fairness, and what constitutes abuses of power.

Critical and Sensitive Matters a Supervisor Might Oversee:

  • Salary and Bonus amounts
  • PTO and Flex-Time approvals
  • Allowances (financial and time-related) for continuing education, industry participation, and career development opportunities
  • Workload Allocation
  • Promotions
Supervisors have a lot of influence over the quality of work and inadvertently the quality of life of their employees. They wield this newfound power and that’s what makes a person feel like the boss. However, this power does not make a person a leader.

Being the Boss ≠ Being a Leader

In the daily whirlwhind of proposal deadlines, conference planning, marketing campaigns (and insert every other marketing task possible), it is easy to lose sight of tangible matters that affect our employees. It’s also easy to succumb to the weight of too much workload for too little staff and delegate workload equally but inequitably. As a supervisor, your logical thought process may be to divide the workload evenly since everybody on your team (yourself included) have the same number of hours in a given day. You work as a team to get through your collective to-do’s in order to best serve your company… or so you think. As a supervisor you should be aware of the unintended consequences of this workload approach and recognize that what you may deem fair actually isn’t.
According to a recent survey conducted by GoodHire, how employees view the role of their managers is indicative of where managers’ actual value may lay:
  • 84% of American workers said they could do their manager’s job.
  • 83% of American workers said they could do their own job without their managers.
  • 82% of American workers said they would potentially quit their job because of a bad manager.
Yikes! It may seem that most employees don’t hold their managers in high esteem. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean managers across the board are deemed incompetent. These self-reported results could be more indicative of just how competent employees are. They are good at their jobs so they don’t need heavy oversight and they have just as much potential to be a leader in their company as current leaders in their company – which you might have already believed, especially if you feel they can handle more of the shared workload. That’s great! For the company that is. What does that mean for first-time supervisors? It means you’re in a tricky spot.

Here’s why and what to consider:

When dissecting the results, GoodHire pinpointed what most often caused employees to dislike their managers. “Respondents said they are most irritated by a manager who is overbearing and micromanages, as well as a manager who expects them to work outside of working hours.” As a first-time supervisor, pay special attention to the latter part.
What value do you bring to those you supervise if they feel like they don’t need oversight and can do the same tasks you do? Your value is in creating a positive and sustainable work environment for your team so that they want to stay. How you manage workload amongst your team is one of the ways you hold power, and it is one of the ways you can lose your employees to a competing firm (or worst to a completely different industry).

How to manage workload allocation equitably so that your direct reports aren’t chronically irritated and want to leave:

As a first-time supervisor this is a challenge for sure, especially in the AEC Marketing field where pursuits are a large part of our responsibilities and those naturally require a team effort! In the above section about Critical and Sensitive Matters a Supervisor Might Oversee you’ll notice the other bulleted items such as pay and PTO. These benefits are interrelated and crucial to the well-being of your team. One of the allures of being a supervisor is presumably a bump in pay (and a difference in compensation is built into your team structure). In other words, your employees don’t get paid as much as you; therefore, you probably should not expect them to sacrifice as much as you. Don’t think because you’re working overtime or outside of business hours (or forgoing PTO) your team should be, too. If you do, there’s a good percentage chance (consider the 84% of workers stat above) that your employees dislike you and will consider quitting because of you.
Don’t get trapped in the “boss” mentality of trying to extract as much productivity from your team as possible under the guise of benefitting your company’s goals. Your direct-reports are people and people need leaders who understand them, look out for their interests, and pave a path toward achieving shared goals. Learn how to prioritize critical tasks and when to say no to others so that you don't burn out your team. While your main responsibility as a marketer is to generate revenue for your firm (which is why it's hard to say no), you also have a responsibility to not lose money (and your firm's reputation) in the process. According to Gallup, "The cost of replacing an individual employee can range from one-half to two times the employee's annual salary." Keeping your team invested in your firm is a managerial priority.

About half of workers are highly satisfied with their job overall, but views of specific aspects of their job vary considerably.

Which of these aspects do you have influence over as a supervisor? (hint: almost all)
% of employed adults saying they are extremely or very satisfied with...
* Excluding those who said they don't have a commute. ** Full question wording asked about receiving feedback from their manager or supervisor on how they're doing their job. *** Full question wording included "such as health insurance and paid time off." Note: Based on workers who are not self-employed. Source: Survey of U.S. workers conducted Feb. 6-12, 2023. "How Americans View Their Jobs" PEW RESEARCH CENTER
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Play the Long Game

Being a supervisor is a heavy responsibility because you have to advocate for and invest in the success of others. Employee retention is an indicator of your supervisory success, but positive work relationships should transcend any given job or employer. Why is that? Because while one of your top priorities should be creating a positive work environment so that your employees want to stay, they likely won’t stay forever – and that’s okay.
A study released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2021 revealed that “baby boomers held an average of 12.4 jobs from ages 18 to 54. (In this report, a job is defined as an uninterrupted period of work with a particular employer.)”. That seems like a lot of different jobs over the course of one’s professional career. As a supervisor, you may interpret this statistic with ambivalence, and even moreso when applying this assumption to the current (younger) workforce you may feel even more hopeless in your ability to retain talent – because younger workers job hop so much more these days! Right?
Among 18- to 34-year-old workers in the United States, 44% reported in January 2022 that they had been with their current employer three years or more."
Actually no. “Today’s young adults have been on the job with their current employer about as long as young adults over the past four decades” according to a Pew Research Center analysis of the U.S. government’s most recent job tenure data. “Among 18- to 34-year-old workers in the United States, 44% reported in January 2022 that they had been with their current employer three years or more.” (Pew).
Overall, the reality is that workers do tend to have more than one job in their career (re 12+ jobs), but it’s never futile to advocate for the success of your team within your company. Afterall, even when a member of your team decides to leave (for reasons other than dissatisfaction with your management), there’s a chance they may return or refer somebody else for the role. There’s also a chance that you may cross paths with them again in your career journey (because surprise, you may choose to work for more than one employer during your lifetime).

Conclusion

Let’s end on a positive note because being a First-Time Supervisor really is a wonderful opportunity. You may feel intimidated by the power structure now in play, or how critical employees may be of their managers, or by the seeming instability of workplace retention. However, this is your chance to find meaning and purpose in your work that you couldn’t access before – and that is likely just as important to you as it is to your team. The below McKinsey studies show:
  • Moreover, 70 percent of the employees we surveyed said that their sense of purpose is largely defined by work.
  • “Nearly two-thirds of US-based employees we surveyed said that COVID-19 has caused them to reflect on their purpose in life. And nearly half said that they are reconsidering the kind of work they do because of the pandemic. Millennials were three times more likely than others to say that they were reevaluating work.”
As a leader in your firm, you have the power to improve somebody else’s experience - and that's meaningful.
Oh, and remember that survey GoodHire published about how workers feel about their managers? They also learned the following:

70% of American workers strongly enjoy or somewhat enjoy working for their manager.

So relax a little and pat yourself on the back, if you’re reading this and looking for ways to be a good first-time supervisor, you’re already likely to be an enjoyable manager to work for.
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Theresa Wynn is the Senior Marketing Specialist at Terracon Consultants, Inc. (Terracon). With seven years of experience in the A/E/C industries, Theresa is spending her time expanding the marketing role at her employee-owned firm, training a new marketing specialist, and serving as Co-Chair of the SMPS Colorado Education Committee.
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