Bosses and Workers Bond in the Recession

Few people have a greater impact on how we feel about getting out of bed in the morning than our bosses. But what makes a good boss? Brilliance, vision, forcefulness, availability? Good jokes?

The economy's slide into recession and the beginning of its tentative climb back have cast strong light on the relationship between workforces and leadership. The impact of the economic trauma will affect companies for years to come. Bonds have been secured or frayed—or broken—under the stress of the meltdown.

Challenging times have a way of revealing the truth of every relationship, both the good and the bad.

It turns out that tough times have also forged a "we're all in this together" spirit in the workplace. A big majority of bosses—78 percent—feel closer to their teams, and 61 percent of employees agree, according to Adecco's Best Boss Survey (we're a provider of recruitment and workforce solutions) conducted in September 2010. More striking still, fully 91 percent of employees say they respect the boss and believe that feeling is reciprocated, revealed the survey, in which 1,000 bosses and employees participated.

Rolling up the Sleeves

As for what workers admire most, what makes a good boss, it's definitely back to basics. Eighty-eight percent of employees describe a good boss as a team player willing to roll up his or her sleeves to get the job done. Simple and to the point in practical times.

What employees don't like, on the other hand, and still widely feel subjected to, is a management style that's too, well, bossy. "My way or the highway" is not the same, in the minds of employees, as strong leadership. Workers want "coaching" bosses who provide a motivating vision complemented by clear guidance, as well as tools to carry it out. A divide opens up here. Nearly a third of bosses believe they are great coaches, yet only a fifth of employees agree. And a mere 15 percent of bosses consider their management style "commanding." Nearly a quarter of the men and women who work for them, though, said that was exactly how they behaved.

Interestingly, a significant number of employees, 61 percent, do consider their boss a friend. Being a friend, though, is not the same as wanting to "friend." Eight-two percent of employees have no social-network connection to their bosses, and nearly a third who do wish they hadn't. Almost half of those connected to the boss via social networking sites have changed their privacy settings to block aspects of their profile, especially their comments or posts. Just over a third of employees connected to their boss online are worried the boss will see their comments or posts compared to only about a fourth of employees who worry the same about their photos and videos.

Hankering to Move Up

Perhaps many of these employees prefer to remain at arm's length from their bosses, because they don't aspire to have their bosses' jobs some day—except for younger generations. Forty-two percent of Millennials think they're smarter than who they work for, and nearly half want their boss's positions—compared with only 30 percent of employees overall who hope to be the office lead.

It has often been said that employees don't leave jobs—they leave bosses. That may simply amount to a yearning for the sort of hands-on leadership employees cite as the most important characteristic of a good boss. Bosses who recognize that and act on it are doing what employees say matters most. Good bosses lead with clarity and effectiveness. But they also make sure their offices are never too far from the trenches.