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It has been said that an employee’s relationship with their direct supervisor is one of the most influential factors on whether or not that employee enjoys their job. However, this dynamic has changed somewhat in recent times.

In an article at Fast Company, Bersin by Deloitte founder Josh Bersin told freelance writer Jared Lindzon, “Most companies, even big companies, are much less hierarchal and much less top-down in their execution than they used to be. Leaders are finding that they have to be more inspirational, they have to be more collaborative.”

As a result, an employee’s relationships with their colleagues have become increasingly influential in their perception of job satisfaction. Part of this has to do with the influx of younger workers into the labor force, who highly value collegial relationships, as demonstrated by their desire to work together on tasks more often than Gen. X-ers or baby boomers do.

Another factor in this shift is that, in many organizations, there is now more cross-departmental collaboration, which creates more than one reporting relationship for many employees. For example, a team member in customer service may work with marketing to give input on how to market to existing clients, and the marketing supervisor may oversee the project.

Another factor that may reduce the importance of the relationship with one’s direct supervisor is the myriad of ways an employee is assessed in today’s workplace, including 360-degree feedback and other objective measures of work. Bersin also referred to this in the Fast Company article: “The traditional approach to performance management and performance appraisals is being revolutionized, they’re throwing away ratings, they’re putting in systems to provide feedback, and the gap that’s being created is, ‘Who are the right leaders?’”

In light of all this, I’d like to offer a few thoughts on how to build a positive reporting relationship with any supervisor, even in these rapidly changing times:

1. Be Appreciative

Bosses and supervisors don’t hear much thanks; instead, they usually hear a lot of complaining, or their employees are coming to them with problems to solve. Occasionally thanking someone (be specific about why you’re thanking them!) can go a long way in building a positive relationship.

2. Be Respectful

One of the most common complaints I hear from supervisors (especially in cross-generational relationships) is that they feel disrespected. Most of us aren’t sure what makes us feel respected, but we clearly know when we feel disrespected. Having a general conversation with your boss about actions that lead them to feel respected (or disrespected) would be wise.

If you are going to raise a concern, make sure it is specific, versus being vague and general. Also make sure it is a behavior or issue your boss can address. Don’t whine about “management” or a colleague in another department where your supervisor has no influence.

3. Do Your Job Well (and Be Willing to Go Above and Beyond)

Remember, you are there to accomplish tasks and do them well. When you perform quality work and, at least occasionally, do more than is required, you make your boss look good to their colleagues and supervisor. They’ll appreciate that.

The goal of building a positive relationship with your boss isn’t to “suck up” to them and win undue favoritism. Rather, the purpose is to develop a healthy relationship of mutual respect, which will lead to better communication, the ability to work through disagreements, and a partnership where you can support one another through difficult times.

Paul White, Ph.D., is a speaker, trainer, author, and psychologist who “makes work relationships work.” 



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