Bosses Are ‘Thriving’ During The Pandemic — But For Most Employees, It’s The Opposite

While many workers are overwhelmed and exhausted toiling through a pandemic, that is not the case for the majority of company leaders.

According to Microsoft’s newly released Work Trend Index survey, 61% of business leaders say they’re “thriving” right now, while only 38% of workers without decision-making authority say the same.

Leaders are out of touch with the moods and feelings of the workers who report to them, according to a new survey from Microsoft.

The global survey, which polled more than 31,000 full-time or self-employed workers from a variety of fields in 31 countries, including the United States, Canada, Brazil, China and Colombia, was conducted in January and its results were released on Monday.

Business leaders in the survey were more likely to be male and farther along in their careers. Compared to workers without decision-making authority, they reported stronger relationships with colleagues and leadership, higher incomes, and a higher likelihood of taking all of their allotted vacation days.

The status quo is working for bosses, although it clearly isn’t working for employees.

The survey shows a wide disconnect between these business leaders who are thriving in established careers and younger workers. Sixty percent of respondents between the ages of 18 and 25 said they are merely surviving or are struggling right now at work.

These early-career workers were more likely to feel exhausted after a work day and had more difficulty getting a word in during meetings compared to what was reported by older generations in the survey.

“There is an income difference between managers, particularly senior managers, and those at the individual contributor side. And that impacts everything. That impacts their perception of work, and what is equitable.”

– Gregory Tall

Gregory Tall, a workshop facilitator who coaches managers, said one dynamic that could explain the disconnect is money.

“There is an income difference between managers, particularly senior managers, and those at the individual contributor side,” said Tall. “And that impacts everything. That impacts their perception of work, and what is equitable in terms of how much time you spend [at work] to life outside of work, what you can afford.”

Tall said he’s heard of bosses who are thriving working remotely while their younger employees may be struggling to work around roommates and unreliable Wi-Fi.

“The people who have money to have a house that’s big enough where they’re not putting themselves and others at risk, or a second home to go to if things get too crazy living out of their apartment in the city, etc. ― they are going to, as unhappy as they are, do better in the pandemic than people who live in a smaller space where they’re not as protected, where they have to take public transportation to get to work, and where they need to be at work in order to earn a living,” said Sandra Sucher, a professor of management practice at Harvard Business School. “One of the pandemic problems is this disconnect between managerial work and kind of frontline work or manufacturing work.”

While the status quo may be working for the majority of bosses in the global survey, nearly 1 in 5 professionals said their employer doesn’t care about work-life balance, and the majority said they were overworked. It’s no wonder, then, that 41% of the respondents said they are likely to consider leaving their current employer within the next year.

Tall said he has observed this disconnect between leaders and staff when hearing managers say, ’‘‘Oh, this person resigned suddenly.’ And it’s like, ‘No, it was sudden for you.’ They’ve been thinking about this for probably months.”

In his experience, Tall said, workers who quit for another job are doing so because “they’ve exhausted the other viable, much easier options,” such as switching teams or working on different projects.

If you are a boss who is surprised by these survey results, take time to reflect on where the disconnect may be coming from and how it can be addressed. To facilitate a more candid check-in with staff, Tall suggests moving away from asking the perfunctory question “How are you doing?” to asking more specific questions, such as “What is the biggest challenge you are facing working from home?”

Then, Tall said, “People can’t say, ‘Oh, it’s fine.’ Now we’re getting someplace.”

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