There are Multiple Dimensions to a Good Job

The more I think about what makes a job good, the more I see that perhaps the most critical link in building and sustaining job quality is the presence of a good manager.

In previous blogs examining good jobs (here and here), I focused a lot on scorecards and surveys; sets of empirical measures that can show whether a job is good. That is, the job meets a certain set of criteria for compensation, policies, and working conditions that together provide employees with safe and meaningful work that is fairly rewarded.

I also shared that to design and sustain good jobs, scorecards and employee surveys are necessary but insufficient. Employers need to be curious about and familiar with the needs of their specific workforce and the communities from which they are drawn. This requires that managers and leaders build relationships with the people who work for them – relationships that enable honest discussions about needs and the workplace experience, which drive the iterative process of good job design for individuals, and that support performance across teams and organization networks.

The more I think about what makes a job good, the more I see that perhaps the most critical link in building and sustaining job quality is the presence of a good manager.

Obviously how you experience your job is not only defined by your manager. There are your coworkers, internal and external customers, the company leadership, your commute, the work environment, and your role and the work you do.

However, as we think about the conditions of a good job, I believe it’s instructive to consider how much they are influenced by managers.

Take the JUST Capital Scorecard, one of the diagnostic tools I’ve talked about in recent blogs. It covers seven categories: hiring, wages and compensation, training and development, stability and hours, health and safety, benefits, and workforce composition. Your manager strongly influences each of these categories:

  • Hiring: Your manager hires you. Good managers do so with equity and empathy, and without bias. They communicate honestly about the nature of the work and the culture of the organization. They help connect you to the resources and networks you will need to be successful.
  • Wages and compensation: Your manager plays a pivotal role in placing your starting salary within the company’s pay structure, deciding on additional elements of compensation, and in advocating for future increases.
  • Training and development: Your manager is or should be the one to notice training and development needs and opportunities related to increasing your skills and productivity, and supporting your career growth. A good manager recognizes that investing in your development is good for you and it’s good for the organization.
  • Stability and hours: Your manager often is the one who determines your schedule, and whether there’s any flexibility within it. A good manager supports your work-life balance and your ability to manage your time and commitments within the demands of your job.
  • Health and safety: Your manager advocates for the facilities, equipment, and training you need to perform your tasks safely. Equally important, your manager fosters and safeguards the psychological safety of you and your team, and promotes an environment that supports your well-being.
  • Benefits: Your manager can be helpful in getting answers about available company benefits. More importantly, a good manager supports your use of those benefits by scheduling time off, granting flexibility for appointments, and supporting other workplace accommodations, as needed and appropriate.
  • Workforce composition: Your manager plays a role in hiring those around you, which in part determines the workforce composition. The diversity of your team and colleagues influences the breadth of experience, multi-dimensional views, and collaborative opportunities that can help position you and your team for success.

As I’ve discussed in past blogs, measures of good jobs also include categories for less tangible items such as “worker experience” and “higher needs.” Good managers contribute to these, as well.

Here are just a few of those less tangible, but no less critical, elements of a good job.

  • Autonomy, mastery, and purpose: In the book Drive, Daniel Pink laid out three components that contributed to motivation: autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Good managers support autonomy and mastery by coaching employees to higher levels of individual performance, and then trusting employees to perform. They support purpose by helping to connect and align the work of employees with the broader goals and mission of the organization, industry, and marketplace.
  • Trust, pride, and camaraderie: Across more than three decades of research, consulting firm Great Place to Work has found that good jobs and great workplaces come down to trust, pride, and camaraderie. Good managers model and foster trust with and among members of their teams. They coach employees and teams to new accomplishments and recognize individual and team achievements, building pride. They welcome and take an interest in all team members and build team cohesion, creating camaraderie.
  • Consultative, creative, and entrepreneurial: Within their Organizational Health Index, McKinsey identifies 11 management behaviors that drive company performance. Among those are empowering employees through communication and delegation (consultative) and supporting innovation and creativity (entrepreneurial). While these management behaviors are good for the company, they also create an engaging work experience for employees. Who wouldn’t want to be empowered and supported in pursuing innovation and creativity on the job?
  • Psychological safety and power: These are two of the “Five Ps” for inspiring employees that I wrote about in a previous blog. Both support the ability for employees to be themselves, speak their mind, share their ideas, and thus be engaged in their work and workplace. Employees without psychological safety and power are almost guaranteed to be disengaged and unmotivated.  (The other three of the “Five Ps”–purpose, parity, and professional development–are already covered elsewhere in this blog.)

The potential impact of a good manager is powerful. And while the list of manager “superpowers” is significant, an important difference between good managers and superheroes is that we mortals can be trained, equipped, and empowered to be good managers.

At IRC4HR, we believe that practical research can contribute to that process, which is why we have funded it for the past 96 years. And we know there is a strong link between good managers, good jobs, and good business performance.  What does recent IRC4HR-funded research say about the effects of good managers on good jobs?

Manager mindsets contribute to job quality.
The Bounce Forward project shows the impact of a manager’s mindset. When managers changed their mindset from a stressed-out superhero (have all the answers, make all the decisions, direct all the tasks, track all the results) to a coach (teach, encourage, review, mentor), job quality improved for them and their employees. Managers felt less stress and pressure and transmitted less angst to their employees. In turn, employees who were trusted with more autonomy felt more engaged, motivated, and fulfilled.

Managers’ individual relationships make a difference.
Driving Personal Growth Through Relationships shows that personal growth on the job depends on relationships between employees and managers. To obtain opportunities, professional development, and advancement, employees need to both push their manager and be pulled along by their manager. This push and pull happens in the context of a trusting relationship.

Managers shape the team experience.
Agility at the Point of Execution demonstrates that managers shaping their team’s network – that is, the team relationships – helps to drive employee engagement, increase morale, and fight burnout. High-performing team leaders also focus on building competency-, integrity-, and benevolence-based trust and on solving task and relationship conflicts.

There are many quantifiable steps that companies can take to create good jobs. And they should, since our research has shown that job quality is a pathway to alpha. And McKinsey agrees: companies where managers excel at building great teams see 3-21x greater total shareholder value over five years.

Beyond ticking various job quality checkboxes, the relationship between managers and employees might just be one of the most, if not the most, important part of the good job equation. Equipping managers with what they need to create good jobs for their teams — and motivating and rewarding them for doing so —  is clearly an investment worth making, and one that more organizations should be pursuing.

Jodi Starkman is Executive Director of the Innovation Resource Center for Human Resources.