The All-Too-Common Problem Of ‘Managing The Work More Than The Worker’


I always like hearing from readers on management issues, as they can provide insights and perspectives you may not get elsewhere.

This was exactly how I felt last week when a reader sent me a message on Twitter. I had sent out a tweet about an article I’d written about the importance of empathy in management: “Empathy is a key (but often overlooked) element of successful #management.”

To which a reader named @black_mankey responded with the note: “Thank you for saying that, Mr. Lipman! How much managers manage the work more than the worker.”

And I thought: What a nice concise insight. The work more than the worker. Though I’ve often written about, and spent time thinking about, the many reasons for ineffective management, I’d never heard it said in those exact terms. Yet I believe it’s a spot-on way to describe a great deal of what goes wrong with management.

Understanding and productivity

And there is a great deal wrong with management, make no mistake about it. With national employee engagement numbers perpetually mired in the 30% range, a very substantial number of employees are neither enthralled with their management nor committed to their companies. With huge chronic losses in productivity.

There are many reasons for such disengagement, of course, but having minimal interest in the person actually doing the work is surely high among them.

Not to say “the work” doesn’t matter – of course it does. As do positive results, naturally. Management is nothing if not a results-oriented endeavor.

But where are we choosing to focus our energies? When managers focus solely on the work and ignore the way results are being attained, they’re overlooking a key element in the productivity equation.

They’re not being conscious of individual employee needs and motivations.

They’re not giving time and thought to recognizing noteworthy employee accomplishments.

They’re not thinking about creative ways to enhance an individual’s commitment to the organization.

Because management is after all the art of accomplishing work through others. Other human beings, that is. Not dogs or cats or horses or cattle.

Which is why “managing the worker and not just the work” matters. It’s not just some touchy-feely HR exercise, it’s ultimately an exercise in productivity. If you’re not getting to know an employee and trying to understand what makes him or her get up in the morning and come to work day after day, you’re missing a significant management opportunity.

Which I believe is what my thoughtful Twitter reader was telling me.


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