Disposable, Invisible, or Valuable

What do managers really think about the people who report to them? I have been in many conversations with managers about their direct reports and it’s fascinating how the dynamics of the conversation shift based on who they are talking about.

Some people are their “rock stars” and when mentioned a manager would often perk up or smile. You can immediately tell just how valuable these direct reports are. Then there are those the manager wished were never on their team and when they are mentioned there is almost a tone of resigned pity in their voice. “I don’t know what to do with him.” or  “I wish they would just quit.” They are disposable. And then there are some who are never mentioned at all. It’s not that they are bad workers or don’t know how to do their job but a meaningful connection has never been developed. They are invisible.

According to this blog post from the Wall Street Journal, 52% of U.S. workers feel they are valued at work. I would speculate the other 48% feel they are either disposable or invisible.

Recent conversations with different people about the relationship and interactions with their manager started me thinking about how a lack of feeling valued reflects on the every day life of people. I am sure there are more but here are my initial thoughts:

When a manager thinks of you as disposable, they:
Think anyone can do the job. People become a commodity and if you don’t quit, the manager will eventually replace you. If fact, they are secretly hoping you would quit to save them the trouble of going through the HR process.
Tell you how to do your job. If people continue working for this manager, micro-management will be the primary means of communication. Trust is absent. Empowerment, growth, and free-thinking become a distant dream.
Make you feel smaller. Nothing you do makes a difference. You are constantly running on a treadmill with the incline slowly being increased. No matter how hard you run (trying to improve or impress the manager) you are going nowhere, just getting weaker and weaker.

When a manager thinks of you as invisible, they:
Rarely provide feedback. And when they do it is vague and often meaningless. You don’t know where you stand and will probably be surprised (negatively or positively) when performance review time comes around.
Ignores your input. Your recommendations or suggestions fall on deaf ears regardless of how sound your ideas are. A polite nod may be noticed but for the most part, you are disregarded.
Make you feel nothing. The reflection of being invisible over time can cause you to grow apathetic about work. You may lose motivation to do great things or to bring energy to your job. You are checking time off the calendar.

When your manager thinks of you as valuable, they:
Treasure you. Your manager is looking out for your well-being both personally and professionally. Your manager cherishes their time with you and your conversations are open and engaging. They are always looking for greater opportunities for you.
Have a twinkle in their eye. Your manager exudes a sense of pride when they mention you in a conversation. I remember chatting with a manager once who teared up a little when mentioning how proud they were of one of their direct reports and what they have accomplished.
Make you feel bigger. Every interaction with your manager makes you feel like you can conquer the world. Even when giving feedback or guidance, the manager empowers and trusts you. They are frequently telling you just how valuable you are.

This does gets tricky if there is a disconnect between what a manager thinks and what the direct report perceives their manager thinks about them. For example, if a manager becomes distracted and has not made significant connections for a period of time, even the most valuable of people may begin to feel invisible. I would suspect this disconnect of perception happens frequently.

If you are a direct report and feel something other than valued, I believe you have a decision to make. If you are comfortable, you can start by having a conversation with your manager about how you are feeling. Perhaps it is just a perception issue and if so, you may be relieved to find out just how valued you really are. If there is an actual dysfunction with the relationship, you can attempt to work it out and hope it gets better or you can find a manager who will value you. You can identify those managers by noticing the flock of people wanting to work for them.

If you are a manager and catch yourself thinking about direct reports with something other than how valuable they are, I would suggest taking the initiative to correct this. The possible actions you should take are more than can be covered here but put yourself in their shoes and see the world through their eyes. From this perspective, what can you do differently? What would it take for you to feel valued if you were them? For those you can’t ever find yourself valuing, be human and partner with them to find another opportunity aligning with their passion and competency.

How does the person you report to make you feel? Please take our poll (anonymously if you prefer) or respond with any comments.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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One thought on “Disposable, Invisible, or Valuable

  1. Hi Len, as a manager I like to have a weekly one on one, it is the employee’s time to provide feedback, air issues, or simply ask questions. If there is nothing then meeting over. I like this approach because it sets a cadence and issues don’t turn into volcanoes.

    Another perspective managers use is “who would you take to war?” Managers clearly have in mind those that will support their cause no matter what and secretly those employees are treated differently.

    Enjoyed your perspective on this topic and unfortunately for the most part employees do feel invisible, and that does have an affect on the employee enthusiasm and commitment to their work.