The Power Imbalance Between Employees and Managers: A Barrier to Honest Feedback

When looking at the factors that cause people to change jobs, the list can be quite daunting:

  • Poor Leadership and Management Style
  •   Lack of Recognition and Appreciation
  • Inadequate Feedback and Communication
  • Micromanagement
  • Unclear Expectations and Goals
  • Inconsistent or Unfair Treatment
  • Lack of Professional Development Opportunities
  • Poor Conflict Resolution
  • Inadequate Support and Resources
  • Etc.

This list can be summarized in the following universally true statement,” People don’t leave jobs; they leave bad managers.”  Given its simplicity, this problem should be easy to solve. Just don’t be a bad manager. But what makes a manager “bad” and how do they know they fall into this category?  That is where the difficulty arises.

According to a new Gallup survey, managers aren’t getting the feedback they need to improve. This disconnect stems from the inherent power imbalance in the workplace, where managers have the authority to direct their employees’ work and the power to hire and fire. This same dynamic prevents managers from receiving honest feedback crucial for their development, creating a dichotomy where managers believe they are performing well while employees disagree but feel powerless to provide direct feedback.

The Disconnect Between Managers and Employees

Gallup’s survey highlights significant discrepancies between how managers perceive their performance and how employees feel:

Manager Responsiveness

72% of managers believe they respond to messages and calls within 24 hours.

Only 51% of employees agree.

Feedback Quality

69% of managers think they provide quality feedback

Only 50% of employees feel they receive quality feedback.


53% of managers consider themselves approachable.

Just 45% of employees agree.


32% of managers believe they motivate their teams to perform outstandingly.

Only 22% of employees feel motivated by their managers.


59% of managers say they give recognition for good work.

Only 35% of employees feel recognized.

The Problem of Power Dynamic

These issues are rooted in the power dynamics between managers and employees. Managers hold significant authority over their employees, which can make employees hesitant to provide honest feedback, fearing negative repercussions. As a result, managers remain unaware of their shortcomings, believing they are doing well based on the lack of critical feedback.

Bridging the Feedback Gap

To address this problem, organizations must focus on training and structural changes that facilitate open and honest communication.

Communication Training

Managers and employees may speak the same language, but their interpretations can differ significantly. For example, a manager might think a simple “Great job!” is sufficient, while an employee might desire detailed feedback. Effective communication training can help bridge this gap, ensuring both parties understand and meet each other’s needs. Innovative methods like improv comedy can make this training engaging and insightful.

Structured Feedback Sessions

Regular 1:1 meetings between managers and employees can foster a more consistent flow of information. By providing a structured environment for feedback, employees may feel more comfortable sharing their thoughts, and managers can better understand their teams’ needs.

Feedback from Senior Leaders

Senior leaders need to model the behavior they expect from line managers. When managers receive regular and constructive feedback from their superiors, they are more likely to provide the same to their employees.

Clear Expectations

Feedback often fails when there is a misalignment of expectations. Training managers to set clear and achievable expectations can make feedback more meaningful and actionable for employees.

Comprehensive Management Training

Promoting high-performing employees to management roles without adequate training can lead to ineffective leadership. Comprehensive management training should be a priority to ensure managers are equipped with the skills necessary to lead their teams effectively.

Supporting Managers to Support Employees

The Gallup survey underscores the need for improved management practices to enhance employee satisfaction and performance. Organizations can create a more transparent and productive work environment by addressing the power dynamics and providing managers with the tools and training they need. Supporting managers in their development is crucial for the overall success of the organization and the well-being of its employees.

Does your company have the processes and resources available to make these changes and reduce the number of your employees leaving? If not, Mercury Performance Group can help. With our real-world experience and proven techniques, we can help transform your business and solve this critical people problem. Contact us today.

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