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3 Worst Mistakes Managers and Supervisors Make

by Stephen Bruce, PhD, PHR

They say the perfect business has no managers, no supervisors, and no employees. Unfortunately, your business isn’t perfect, and you have to deal with managers and supervisors who will make today’s “worst mistakes” if you don’t train them.

Here are the worst mistakes managers make:

Worst #1—Failure to Be Honest in Performance Management

Supervisors and managers don’t like to deliver bad news, so they just avoid it. They observe bad behavior, they accept poor performance, and they say nothing, then it’s time to complete the performance appraisal. Since they’ve said nothing about the poor performance, instead of hitting the employee with the truth, the supervisor or manager simply awards a “satisfactory.”

The manager thinks that he or she is sending a message, because “satisfactory” is considered a low rating.

This creates a double edged problem. First of all, nothing’s being done about the poor performance, so it will just continue as a productivity drag.

Second, you’re setting yourself up to lose a lawsuit—already, the manager’s thinking doesn’t match the written record.

And things are only going to get worse. Eventually, the poor performance is going to cause the managers or supervisor to take action.

The manager fires the employee, but, unfortunately, once again, the manager doesn’t tell the truth. The manager says, “Sorry, due to budgetary restrictions, we had to let someone go.”

Later, the employee sues, saying, “I found out there are no budgetary restrictions. The firing was because I am in a protected group.”

Now the manager backpedals—”Well actually, the reason for the termination was poor performance.”

Boom. The framework for the successful lawsuit is in place.

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An employee with demonstrably “satisfactory” performance (as documented by his appraisal forms signed by the manager), was officially terminated for “budgetary restrictions.” Now the manager is saying the real reason was poor performance.  Clearly the manager was untruthful at some point.

And unfortunately, the poor performance is not documented. The jury is going to side with the employee. Or, more likely, this case is going to settle.

Worst #2—Making Snap Decisions When Responding to Employee Requests and Complaints

Certainly, many employee requests are annoying, or unreasonable, or even outrageous, but that doesn’t mean that you can ignore them, or refuse them, or even react angrily to them.

That’s not easy when, for instance, a key worker asks for FMLA leave with the busy season coming up. Or you had a very good shot at getting a proposal out on deadline and then the writer needs “bonding time.” Or his “back is acting up” or her “migraines are getting worse.”

Whatever the situation, managers and supervisors need to be trained to “keep their cool” and give the request due respect. Training managers to deal with these situations is relatively easy—Tell managers “If this kind of situation arises, say ‘I’ll get back to you,’ and head to HR.”

Complaints are similar in that they can be upsetting (especially if directed at the manager or supervisor in question) but must be dealt with respectfully. For example:

  • Allegations of discrimination, retaliation, or illegal practices
  • Questions about safety or a refusal to do a job because it is viewed as unsafe
  • A report of an illegal act or refusal to perform an act perceived to be illegal
  • Questions about wages, hours, overtime, etc.
  • Requests for workers’ compensation
  • Requests for accommodation on the basis of disability or religion

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Employees have rights in these areas, and they must be respected. In addition, be aware that your denying these rights will rarely look good in court. (“Even after being informed that the action was unsafe, you tried to force the employee to do it?”)

As one expert says, “Don’t let your managers and supervisors deal with these situations—they’ll mess it up for sure.”

In tomorrow’s Advisor, the third worst mistake managers make, plus an introduction to a very efficient 10-minutes-at-a-time training system.

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  1. Anonymous         
    June 7, 2011 6:26 am

    “Grade inflation” happens in almost every workplace–managers who simply don’t like telling employees that they aren’t cutting it, or who aren’t sufficiently invested in the appraisals process to give employees anything but a “meets expectations” rating (except in extreme cases, both good and bad). Managers must be trained on how legally risky it is for them to continue this practice–oftentimes they’re just not aware of the potential issues.

  2. Anonymous         
    July 5, 2011 1:09 pm

    I am not seeing Worst Mistake #3 …Can someone please advise me where I can find this information?


  3. Anonymous         
    July 7, 2011 8:08 am


    Thanks for your interest – we have added a link to Worst Mistake #3 at the end of the article.