A little more than 10 percent of employees say they ask their supervisor for advice on workplace issues, according to an Internet survey of 3,447 individuals by CO2 Partners, a Minnesota-based firm that focuses on leadership development and executive coaching.
About 90 percent of those surveyed are middle- to senior-level managers.
The survey also found most employees who want or need advice get it from a peer, another senior-ranking co-worker, a friend who does not work with them, or a mentor or coach.
Gary Cohen, CO2 Partners president, said the low percentage of respondents who said they turn to their boss for advice reflects a lack of trust between managers and employees.
“Someone’s immediate report would be the logical starting place for advice, but for the great majority of people, it seems a supervisor is the last person they want to talk with,” he said. “Many employees are clearly wary of management, which is always likely to hurt performance.”
Cohen, however, also said employees’ unwillingness to ask their boss for advice might indicate they do not want to appear weak or ignorant, that is, they are uncomfortable “admitting” they do not know it all.
“Perhaps it’s because people are now supposed to be self-reliant and know all the answers, or maybe it’s a failure of management to foster the kind of give-and-take crucial to a productive and rewarding work setting,” he said. “Either way, it’s a persistent nuisance for companies.”
As such, Cohen said both supervisors and employees can benefit if members of the latter group do not regard hold themselves as being in a position of knowing all. Rather, they should realize they are human and act accordingly.
“Listen actively to an individual’s response, and it will go a long way to build trust,” Cohen said. “If the manager is willing to be vulnerable and admit to not knowing the answer, there’s an opportunity to open up a deeper level of communication. But asking such questions has to be authentic, not just a phony gesture or gimmick.”
Supervisors also should foster a sense of learning from your mistakes being a good thing.
“Let everyone know you’ll support them and that asking questions is the right way to show responsibility,” he said.
In regard to the question, “Whom do you turn to for advice on problems at work?” the survey results are as follows:
- 24 percent: A peer in your organization.
- 15 percent: Another senior person at your job.
- 14 percent: A friend outside the workplace.
- 13 percent: Your mentor or coach.
- 11 percent: Your supervisor.
- 7 percent: Your spouse/partner.
- 4 percent: No one.