Why is Being a Manager so Hard?

Why is being a manager so hard?

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News Flash: being a manager isn’t always about lollipops, sunshine, free lunches and the big bucks.  Some days being the manager is completely awful.   You have to perform tasks that are unpleasant, tasks that can impact lives for the negative, tasks that can keep you awake at night. Sometimes being the manager is about tough decisions and being unpopular girl or guy.

So over the past 4 weeks I polled 182 managers to find out what you think the hardest thing about being a manager is.

Here are the survey results…..

Managing the needs of your team versus the needs of your organization – 5%

Many managers encounter the “sandwich effect”.   They are sandwiched between the needs of their organization and the needs of their team.  And surprise surprise, these needs are not always the same.

One of my favourite analogies that I’ve heard that best describes the complexity that comes from managing these competing priorities comes from Reddit user Cacafuego:

I sometimes picture myself as a clutch, allowing the executive and labor gears to spin freely or interact as appropriate. This requires a lot of judgment, and sometimes I get it wrong and take flak from both sides.


Office Politics – 12%

A friend of mine works at the head office of one of the largest Retailers in North America.  When I asked her what the worst part of being in management was, without hesitation she said – Office Politics.

 “You have no idea how bad the office politics are here, it’s like the worst part of high school all over again”.

I’m completely with her; office politics are is like a cancer in the workplace.  I’m fortunate to work for an organization where office politics are nearly non-existent.  So I had to ask her, why don’t you just leave and go to another company where office politics aren’t a problem?

Her reply,

“Leaving would be the easy solution, but  with the most of the ‘political leaders’ schedule to retire within the next 3 years, I have a unique opportunity to rid the cancer once and for all.”

Check out these tips if you want to know how you can overcome office politics.

Managing Conflict – 22%

Do you want to know something interesting?  I actually don’t mind conflict… yes, I know I’m weird.  But even I will agree that conflict is not enjoyable and takes away your time from the larger goals and objectives that you and your team have.

Conflict like people comes in different sizes.  Some conflict is relatively easy to resolve, like dealing with the person who keeps stealing your yogurt at work.  (Just bring in expired yogurt one day, trust me it works)

Other conflict is more difficult to manage.

  • Team members who have conflict with each other
  • Conflict with your department and other departments
  • A conflict between you and your employee

Managing conflict is not easy, but what can exacerbate an already difficult situation for some managers is having to manage conflict between staff members who act like children.

But the good news is that unlike and office politics, there is something you can do about managing conflict.

Here is how to overcome your fear of managing conflict


Having to fire an employee – 27%

Having to fire one of your employees is not an easy thing to do.  So no surprise that it is number 2 on our list.   It is probably the most difficult task a manager has to perform.  And often times managers shy away from pulling the trigger.

But you know what, firing someone shouldn’t be easy.  You has a manager should find it hard to let someone go.  After all, you’re employees are people with families to support, rent to make, and a weekend hobby of cosplaying as Sailor Moon (not the cheapest hobby in the world)

Now it’s one thing to fire a poor performer, it’s another thing having to fire a strong performer due to downsizing.  Out of all the tasks a manager will need to performer, this is the worst by far.  It will keep you up at night, and you will feel terrible for doing it.  I’m sorry, but there is no way to sugar coat this point.

But at the end of the day, it’s a task that falls under your scope of responsibility.  So you might has well learn how to fire some the right way.

Difficult Conversations – 31%

No one likes to have difficult conversations.  I for example found it extremely difficult to tell my spouse that I mistakenly deleted an episode of Glee that she hadn’t watched yet.   Stop smirking; it really was an ‘accident’.

Reddit user Auntfanny describes why difficult conversations are hard, because “nobody likes to have to sit someone down and tell them they smell bad.”   So true Auntfanny, I hate it when someone tells me I smell bad.

All kidding aside, having difficult conversations is why managers get paid the mid size bucks.  But that doesn’t make it any easier, even if it’s the right thing to do.

The types of difficult conversations you will have as a manager include…

  • Telling a poor performer they are not cutting it
  • Declining a request for an increase in salary
  • Informing someone they will not be receiving a promotion
  • Downsizing / letting someone go
  • Informing an employee who is trying very hard that they are not meeting standards required for their job

These conversations will indeed be difficult, but it`s your job to have them. And having better conversations starts with having stronger communication skills.

So that’s the list, the top 5 reasons why being a manager is so hard.   Yes, the numbers don’t add up to 100% because 3% of respondents selected a reason not listed here.  Have your say, why do you think being a manager is hard?


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  1. Annie Chen says:

    Sooooooo timely. I’m in the process of have to fire someone who has worked with me for 6 years. It is absolutely the hardest thing i’ve had to do as a manager.

    • Thanks Annie. I’m sorry to hear that you need fire this individual. Is it case of poor performance or company layoff?

      • Annie Chen says:

        Layoff unfortunately. My CFO has directed me to trim my FTE count by 12%. So i have to cut 2 people from my division. One decision was easy, but Amir has been with me 6 years, so it’s a difficult decision. But when i looked at the make up of my division, he had the least critical role, so i made the decision to let him go.

        I’m not looking forward to the termination meeting, it’s going to suck.

  2. I think it’s interesting to have a hard number behind difficult conversations. As a young manager you often think that in order to be successful you must get to the point where everybody likes you and supports you.

    Reality is that this is not always the case and sometimes you have people working against you and you have to tell employees that they have to follow a certain direction, even if they don’t want to hear that in that moment.

    But this is exactly what makes the difference: Are you a manager who gets things done with the risk of confronting somebody sometimes or do you just want to be happy with each and everyone.

    • Very true, young or first time managers often confuse being liked with being respected. Secondly, having difficult conversations is not the easiest thing to do. The easiest option is likely to ignore the problem. But that compounds the issue and makes the eventual conversation you’ll have even more difficult

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