Survey Finds Where Bosses Fail – and What Workers Say is Most Important

Former American Idol judge Simon Cowell may look happy, but respondents to a Careerbuilder survey said he would be a bad boss.

When CareerBuilder asked workers which TV bosses most reminded them of their own boss, it wasn’t much of a surprise to find American Idol‘s Simon Cowell and The Office‘s Michael Scott among the top ten.

But Judge Judy? Oprah?

I don’t suppose most of us think of Cowell, Judge Judy, or Oprah as TV bosses, even if bossy and opinionated and judgmental fit two of the three. But hey, this is CareerBuilder’s gig and it’s just for fun anyway.

Oprah made the list because she reminded at least some of the almost 4,500 poll takers of their boss. “Very influential and informative,” CareerBuilder called her. The job board applied another “i” word to Cowell: “insulting.” Michael Scott got his own “i” word: “idiotic.” Judge Judy was “no nonsense and fair.”

Where bosses fail: helping with career development

But there was also a serious side to the online survey. Workers were asked their opinion of their boss’ skills and management qualities. The biggest shortcoming, identified by 61 percent of the participants, was in career development. They didn’t feel the boss was doing a good job preparing them to advance in the company.

The recession may be responsible for some of those feelings. With internal advancement limited by layoffs and frozen positions, managers may have focused their efforts on accommodating workers rather than promoting them. CareerBuilder says its survey found 72 percent of workers giving their boss high marks for offering flexibility in working arrangements. Only slightly less (69 percent) said the boss takes time to listen to them.

It’s tempting to laud management listening skills and flexibility, and shrug off the career development complaint as an inescapable consequence of the recession. That would be a mistake. Every survey on the subject shows there is a sizable percentage of the workforce ready, even eager to change jobs. That we haven’t seen the ship-jumping doesn’t mean the surveys are wrong. There just aren’t enough opportunities there to entice hunkered down workers to risk a job change.

86% say a secure and stable job is most important

Towers Watson’s Global Workforce Study found 86 percent of U.S. workers ranked a “secure and stable position” as the most important consideration in a job; more so, even, than the historically top ranking “substantially higher levels of compensation” cited by 74 percent of the surveyed workers.

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Having a job almost three years into the recession is a type of security, which explains why 81 percent of the workers in the survey aren’t actively looking, though 51 percent of them see no career advancement where they are, and 43 percent believe they have to change jobs to move up.

Wise HR professionals should take these surveys as an early warning sign. Internal career advancement may be limited, but that doesn’t mean bosses should be overlooking opportunities to help their staff develop the skills they’ll need when openings do come up.

Two years ago, when Lake Research Partners asked about career development, 25 percent of the workers said their boss was “not providing guidance and opportunities necessary to advance.” Now, almost three times as many workers feel that way.

Besides being good business to have workers ready to step up, it can also help ward off recruiter raiding. If large numbers of workers are unhappy with their career development, and a big percentage feel they have to leave their company to grow, that’s fertile ground for recruiters. You can’t stop defections, but doing nothing will only make the best talent more receptive to other opportunities.

Consider who else made CareerBuilder’s list of TV bosses: MacGyver. Why? Because he’s “resourceful and can fix any situation.” You may not be able to fix career ladder stagnancy until the economy picks up. However, you can help your managers be more resourceful in developing their reports.

John Zappe is the editor of and a contributing editor of John was a newspaper reporter and editor until his geek gene lead him to launch his first website in 1994. He developed and managed online newspaper employment sites and sold advertising services to recruiters and employers. Before joining ERE Media in 2006, John was a senior consultant and analyst with Advanced Interactive Media and previously was Vice President of Digital Media for the Los Angeles Newspaper Group.

Besides writing for ERE, John consults with staffing firms and employment agencies, providing content and managing their social media programs. He also works with organizations and businesses to assist with audience development and marketing. In his spare time  he can be found hiking in the California mountains or competing in canine agility and obedience competitions.

You can contact him here.


2 Comments on “Survey Finds Where Bosses Fail – and What Workers Say is Most Important

  1. Great article John. Training and preparation for advancement are key factors in retention. I recently wrote about hiring better managers and also a post about re-recruiting that you can see here. Career development is a big part of that and if you ask the right questions, your employees will tell you what they need. But then you have to find a way to offer it. Thanks for a good read!

  2. Action is the key–and the challenge right now. People believe there's no career development or opportunity for advancement because it’s not happening. Recession challenges aside, we need to engage employees, listen to what’s important to them (using data like this), and find ways to make things happen (as Jen Turi points out). Many of these things also point to the trust employees have in their managers–or lack thereof. More here:

    Matt Rivera,

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