When it comes to relationships between workers and their direct supervisors, employers and employees agree that while a good amount of face time is important, too much direct contact with the boss is counterproductive. A recent study by Leadership IQ of over 30,000 North American workers, from executive to entry-level, suggests that there is not only a limit to how much time is healthy, but there may well be a magic number of hours for optimum interaction. The results showed that employees who spent six hours per week with their supervisors (including email and other contact methods) reported being 29% more engaged than those who spent only one hour a week.

Too Little Time

Employees who get little face-to-face interaction with direct supervisors may find their jobs more difficult. While quality employees in most jobs should be able to self-manage many day-to-day tasks, a lack of leadership can lead to lower quality work and a lack of morale. Employees reported that less than three hours per week of “boss time” was not enough.

  • Employees can begin to wonder if their work is even noticed.
  • Job quality can slip without the regular accountability of supervisory feedback.
  • Work can often end up off-target without the oversite of management to make minor adjustments along the way.

Too Much Time

On the other hand, employees who get too much attention from their direct supervisors report similarly that they are dissatisfied with their working relationships. While it may seem counterintuitive to limit interactions between supervisors and workers, there are many common complaints workers in frequent close contact with leaders expressed. When more than six hours of interaction is common, there were significant drawbacks.

  • Employees often sense a lack of trust in their ability to do their jobs correctly.
  • The often complain they are being “micromanaged.”
  • They feel stifled in their ability to grow into their jobs and learn new skills
  • Employees express the belief that supervisors do not think they are the right person for their position.

The Magic Number

On average, the employees studied agreed that somewhere between three and six hours in a normal workweek is ideal. It gives enough support to keep work on track and for employees to feel appreciated, while leaving them able to manage their own work, gain skills and “own” their jobs.

Of course, many managers have multiple direct reports, and spending this amount of time with each one is unfeasible. If that’s the case, taking the spirit of the findings to the heart is the key. Try to have a face-to-face conversation with each employee once a week, if possible. And follow up with email messages and/or phone contact when you can. Making the effort to have personal contact with each of your employees, whatever that may mean for you, is sure to increase morale and productivity. Just make sure you don’t cross the line into over-managing.

Each company and even department will have its own demands. Working with your management and workforce to encourage a team effort is the best way to find the formula that works best in your situation.

Jessica Miller-Merrell

Jessica Miller-Merrell, SPHR, is an author, speaker, Human Resources professional, and workplace social media expert who has a passion for recruiting, training, and all things social media. She is the president and CEO of Xceptional HR, and a leader in the HR community with more than 12 years of industry experience. The author of Tweet This! Twitter for Business, Jessica was named by HR Examiner as the second most influential recruiter on the Internet and the seventh most powerful woman on Twitter. She is a columnist for both SmartBrief and The Huffington Post, in addition to Blogging4Jobs and Human Resources One on One. Jessica has been interviewed for professional articles in CIO Magazine, Entrepreneur Magazine, SHRM’s HR Magazine, and on CBS. Jessica earned a Senior Professional in Human Resources designation in 2008, and holds a bachelor’s degree in Anthropology and Business from Kansas State University. Originally from a small town in Kansas, Jessica currently lives near Oklahoma City with her husband, Greg and daughter, Ryleigh.

3 Comments

  • Avatar Lara Martins says:

    I think the right time mostly depends on the manager and how capable he or she is to communicate with the employees. Project-based work is well known, sometimes with teammates spread all over the world. Managers of such projects tend to simplify their work, confident that they have hired specialists for the job, so they keep their communication to a minimum (team emails, some online calls). This can lead to mistakes, deviation from the course, and delays. Managers have to invest the right time with each employee, to improve and support them.

  • Avatar Alexandra K. says:

    If you spend too much time with an employee, then you likely don’t trust that person, or he or she isn’t the right one for the job. It’s okay to keep a new hire close, but if you never let go, that person will not develop his or her skills. No one likes to be micromanaged, so you risk losing valuable talent.

  • Avatar Lauren P. says:

    Employees like to be inspired, so it is all right to spend time with your employees. It doesn’t matter if it’s 3, 6, or more hours per week, as long as those hours are spent to motivate, guide, and educate. The same amount of hours could be hard to handle for employees who deal with an overbearing boss, who is probably a person that likes to rule by criticizing all the time, checking into every little detail, or using that time to no benefit for the employee.

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