scorecardMost bosses think they're doing a better job leading than they actually are. Here are some ways to close the gap.
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Most bosses think they're doing a better job leading than they actually are. Here are some ways to close the gap.

Caroline Hroncich   

Most bosses think they're doing a better job leading than they actually are. Here are some ways to close the gap.
Careers3 min read
Bosses now have to learn how to lead their teams from home.    staticnak1983 / getty images
  • A recent survey from management software provider 15Five found that 84% of leaders feel they're doing a good job supporting employees during the pandemic.
  • By comparison, only 69% of employees felt their bosses were doing a good job.
  • This disconnect exists because leaders have to attend to people's emotional and work needs, and they may not have the tools in place to do so effectively.
  • To create a better environment at work, bosses need to model a healthy work-life balance and be more empathetic.

It's a bad time to be a boss.

When the coronavirus forced US companies to go remote in March, most companies were not ready. Along with the logistical issues of moving a business remote, the shift to 24/7 WFH created an even bigger challenge for managers, who now had to lead their stressed-out and struggling teams through a computer screen.

Nearly eight months into the pandemic, things haven't gotten much better. And there's a clear disconnect between how managers think they're doing, and employees' true feelings about their bosses.

In a survey of 750 full-time US managers and 750 employees the performance management software company 15Five found that 84% of leaders reported feeling that they were doing a good job supporting employees during the pandemic, but only 69% of employees feel the same way.

The results suggest the presence of what psychologists call an "overconfidence bias," in which people hold false beliefs about their abilities relative to objective measures. In this case, bosses believed they were better at managing and supporting employees than they actually were.

David Hassell, CEO and cofounder of 15Five, said this disconnect exists because managers have to support workers' emotional and work needs, and many companies haven't given them the tools to do so properly. Some 65% of managers in the 15Five survey said it was more difficult than usual to do their job effectively; 76% of senior level management said the same.

"Connection is more important than ever, but it's harder to develop in this environment, especially when the structure isn't there," Hassell told Business Insider in an email. "One-on-one meetings between managers and direct reports are so important now because they build a strong foundation of trust and help deepen relationships."

The pandemic has affected nearly everyone's mental health. A report from Prudential found that 65% of American workers say the pandemic has added a great deal of stress to their lives.

Remote work also makes it surprisingly easy to skip lunch and work longer hours. It blurs the divide between work and home, which can lead to burnout.

Bosses need to be empathetic to these challenges, Rana el Kaliouby, cofounder and CEO of the software company Affectiva, wrote for Inc.

"We're all going through this pandemic, but we're not all in the same boat," she wrote. "This is impacting people in all different ways, and as leaders we can't overlook that."

Nani Vishwanath, people team manager at Limeade, an employee experience software company, previously told Business Insider bosses need to encourage a healthy work-life balance to ensure their employees aren't burning out. A few ways of doing this include: encouraging employees to take PTO, surveying your team, and having regular well-being check-ins.

"When an employee finishes a demanding project or makes a big deadline, say 'You've been working really hard. Let's find a good time for you to take some time off to recharge,'" Vishwanath told Business Insider's Marguerite Ward.

But the absolute best way to promote work-life balance is to model it yourself. If you tell employees to take their PTO, make sure you're taking it, too. Take regular breaks and encourage employees to do the same. Be understanding of workers challenges, but also be upfront when you're struggling yourself.

There's no such thing as a perfect boss and not every employee will love your management style — but there is a certain empathy that is required for leading during a time of crisis.

"We are all leaders, be it at work, or in our families, or in our communities," el Kaliouby said. "How we lead in these challenging times will have a ripple effect."