Hey, boss, here are a few reasons why your creative employees don't like you (or being at work)

It’s no secret that today’s market is dynamic and ever-changing, meaning that in order to keep up, businesses must evolve and adapt at a faster pace than ever before. In turn, today’s workplace looks very different than it did just 10 years ago. And as today’s digitally-driven society calls for companies to rely more heavily on content and creative work – in order to meet changing consumer demands – many industries are experiencing a growing need for new types of talent and expertise. Creative and strategic thinkers, in particular.

Of course, we all must think creatively in certain situations, and for that reason, creativity can be considered a trait that everyone possesses in some capacity. But just like other traits, some people are naturally more creative than others. And as a result, highly creative people simply do things differently than others.

A common problem, though, is that many businesses today lack the framework and dynamic leadership needed to support a team of creative people. In fact, in my experience, many of those who are tasked with managing creative thinkers not only lack the experience to collaborate efficiently, but also [often unknowingly] wind up creating a pretty crummy environment for their employees.

I’m one of these “creative” folks – which, just to be clear, is not a measure of my intelligence – it’s just about how my brain works. Highly creative people think, work and communicate – among other things – very differently than “non-creatives.” And while there is no “typical” creative person, generally speaking, we work at times that work best for us, we often lose track of time and we don’t like any sense of monotony — also known as rigid structure.

Of course, tension can arise any time you bring different personalities and working styles together in one setting, but many people have found that creative types can be especially difficult to work with — particularly if you aren’t creative yourself. Consequently, this can make managing these folks feel more like a burden than anything else.

But it doesn’t have to be! When you begin to better understand your creative employees, you can develop a successful and collaborative working environment in which they can thrive.

When you think about it, this should really be demanded of any type of workplace environment – that effective managers must understand how to collaborate with and lead the type of people who are needed to do the work, produce results and move the company forward.

I think it’s safe to say that we will all likely have a boss we don’t like at some point in our career – and there are plenty of possible reasons why. Maybe you just don’t like her – or maybe she just doesn’t understand you. Or, you don’t like her because she doesn’t even try to understand you.

In recent years, situations like this have been popping up more and more in creative environments — in particular, where the boss has little to no experience in not only what her team does every day, but also how they think and even function. As workplace dynamics and needs change, many people in leadership positions lack the same experience as the talent for which they’re hiring. In turn, this can create a very difficult situation for both management and employees – especially when the boss is not equipped to manage people whose brains work very differently than hers. So what we’re seeing today is that while every organization claims to prioritize innovation, few are actually willing to do what it takes to keep their creative people happy and productive.

People like to work with people who tend to do things the same way, or similar — but if you hire this way, you miss out on incredible talent that your company needs in order to continue to grow and evolve. Sure, it’s easier to manage folks who are like you, but by hiring and learning to better understand those who aren’t, you can create an innovative environment that’s built for both short- and long-term success.

So, when it comes to creative people in particular, while sometimes difficult to manage, you don’t want to simply get rid of them. In fact, you can’t afford to. Everyone brings value to the team, and while you may not quite understand your creative employees (yet), they bring, just like everyone else, a perspective that you cannot afford to ignore or eliminate.

What’s the solution? Get your people to like you — and being at work — by getting to know them better. Start to understand, and appreciate, how your creative employees think and work.

Having been both one of those misunderstood employees and a boss myself, here are a few things I’ve learned that can help you cultivate an innovative, creative, productive and enjoyable working environment that brings out the best in your entire team.

Keep in mind, much of the following advice can be applied to many types of employees, not just creative types.

You don’t know what you’re doing

If you’re a fly by the seat of your pants kind of boss, your employees know it. They don’t care how long you’ve been there or how long you’ve held your prestigious leadership position – if you demonstrate incompetence, they will resent you and never trust your decision-making abilities. And if you try to fool them, they will resent you even more.

I had been at a job about six months when I realized that my boss had absolutely no idea what she was doing. At first, I figured as long as she didn’t get in the way of letting me do what I was hired to do – grow and expand the digital side of the brand – then things would be fine. My mistake was assuming that she would collaborate with and rely on me when it came to making decisions about things in which she had no experience. But the more she pretended to know what she was doing, and ignored my input, the more difficult it became for me to not only work with her, but also respect her.

At first, I wondered if it was just because I was new – maybe I just have more to learn around here – but that wasn’t it. Once a few members of the team (who had been there several years) felt comfortable enough with me, they made their feelings about our boss very clear – “she has no idea what she’s doing, won’t listen to any of our ideas and she’s holding us back.”

Unfortunately, what made things worse was that this boss hadn’t created an environment in which honest communication and feedback was encouraged (which we’ll get to in a bit). As a result, these employees continued to do their jobs all while resenting, and lacking respect for, the person who was making the big decisions that impacted those very jobs.

Here’s the thing, folks: No one is expected to know everything – which is why you hire people with specific expertise. Stop trying to pretend you know what you don’t and start collaborating with your people.

You can gain your team’s respect, and trust, by bringing them in to decisions you aren’t sure about and making them part of the solution. Collaboration is crucial to creating a successful environment for creative thinkers. Also, learn from employees who have experience, knowledge or insight you don’t. You hired them for a reason, so allow them to bring to the table what they can. It will help you avoid making big mistakes or bad decisions you can’t easily fix. Plus, it will help your employees feel valuable – which in turn, will motivate them even more.

You overmanage good employees

I had a boss who once told me, “the higher up you go, the less you do.” I thought, wow, that sounds lazy. Then over time, as I gained more experience and moved higher up, I began to understand what she meant. What my boss was trying to stress was the importance of not only delegation, but also the ability to step back and allow your team to do the job for which you hired them.

When you’re used to handling something yourself, it can be very difficult to hand it off to someone else. You need the help, begged for it even, but when it comes time to let it go, you just can’t do it. I get it, I’ve been there. It’s your baby – you built it – and no one can do it like you can.

If you want to stay in the same position, doing the same thing forever, that is totally fine! But if you want to move up, manage others, continue to grow and help your employees grow in their careers, then it’s time to let go.

Let’s stick with the same boss from earlier. When I was brought in to that role, I was given the authority to make a lot of decisions – it was my expertise and as I continued to demonstrate success and create results, it became clear that those decisions were safe in my hands.

However, over time, I began to notice that the more success I demonstrated, the more control my boss wanted over my decisions. She was used to being the go-to person for the brand, and when people began to come to me for things (things I was responsible for overseeing), she didn’t like it – or at least that’s how her behavior came across. It reached a point where she needed final say before I made pretty much any decision – and I was not only overseeing an entire part of the brand, but also managing an entire team.

Regardless of her intentions, from my perspective, it seemed like she just wanted to make the final decisions on things as a way to take credit and maintain control. What made it even worse was the fact that she didn’t understand the decisions that she was making, and very often, the consequences fell on me and I ultimately had to clean up the mess.

This is what happens when you don’t give your employees the room and authority they need to successfully do their jobs. What my boss’ actions told me was that she didn’t trust me – and that wears on you after a while.  

You are only as good as your team – and in the end, if you let them shine, you will shine! When mistakes are made, of course jump in, and then give them the chance to learn from it and do better. When you micromanage your employees, you don’t give them a chance to give the best they have to offer. Sure, when people are new, they need more guidance. When mistakes are made, guidance is necessary. But if you don’t loosen your grip and hand over more and more responsibility over time, then you are the problem. Micromanaging good people will either make them hate you or drive them away.

Do you want someone looking over your shoulder every move you make? Didn’t think so. 

You don’t treat all employees with the same respect

This is something many people do without even realizing it. As a manager, it’s crucial that you understand your employees’ different personality types and needs, in order to manage each individual effectively. However, the level of respect you show each person should never change.

I had a boss (technically it was my boss’ boss) who treated men and women very differently. Sure, he had been in a corporate leadership position for a while and maybe didn’t realize how his behavior was perceived, but it was very clear to everyone else. When he approached a group, he extended his hand out to the men and then let out some version of “hello ladies.” He listened very intently while men spoke and looked at his phone when it was the ladies’ turn. He overlooked great ideas offered up by women and then implemented them once a man got on board. I was even told once that I shouldn’t be sending emails about my team’s success to the person above him – he said those emails should go to him first and then he would take care of it. 

Two very talented women who worked for this man quit because they just couldn’t take it anymore. I didn’t have to deal with him every day, so I just rolled my eyes and stopped copying him on emails I sent to leadership above him (because none of those folks ever discouraged my doing so).

When your employees don’t feel respected, it not only causes them to dislike you, but it can also impact their ability to do their job. A lack of respect leads to more than just hurt feelings – it makes people feel less valuable and they can often become less confident in their work. 

Even if you feel as though you treat all of your employees with [the same] respect, it’s never a bad idea to ask your team for feedback. Ask them what you can do to make their work environment better – and if they have any concerns that you should know about. You can do it one-on-one with each person or even make it anonymous. You might not like what you hear, but if you truly care about improving as a boss (and as a person, really), then take the feedback seriously and work to make changes. You can’t begin to understand another person’s perspective until you ask.

You don’t give your leaders true authority

This goes back to the whole “letting go” thing. When you hire someone into a leadership position, it should be safe to assume that you actually trust this person’s leadership and decision-making capabilities. Sure, when someone is new they may need a little extra guidance and help with some of their management responsibilities. It shouldn’t take too long, though, for you to establish that person’s role within the organization – and her authority in that position.

Here’s why: when you clearly establish the person as a leader and authority figure – and demonstrate your trust in her – then everyone else will see her the same way. If you don’t, then you leave the person in no man’s land, struggling to gain the respect of her own team.

I was transitioned into a leadership position several years ago where, at first, I was managing just a few people, and then a little while later, my boss transitioned more people onto my team. It made total sense considering the roles and work these employees were doing. But I began to run into some problems. My boss never made it clear to the team – via email, meeting or any other method – that I actually held this position (and voice) of authority. So, while my team reported directly to me, they continued to go to her for decisions, approvals and other things. It not only made things confusing for everyone, but I also had a team that was getting approvals I didn’t even know about. Furthermore, my boss would coddle certain employees when any issues would arise – so, of course, those folks would go to her when they didn’t like my answer.

Give your leaders a chance to actually be leaders. Of course, stay informed about what’s going on, any issues and always provide guidance, but give your people who are managing the day-to-day the room to actually make decisions that impact the day-to-day. If you undermine them and don’t give them the respect you promised, they will slowly start to hate you. Their team will never respect them as long as you’re standing in the way – and they will blame you for that. Demonstrate your trust in the leaders you put there and give them the opportunity to actually do what you hired them to do.

Being a great leader means demonstrating the ability to hire – and grow – more great leaders.

You don’t know how to hire the right people

With the rise of digital and social media, there has been an increasing demand for not only skilled content creators, but also strategic thinkers. This new(ish) type of creative expert has spent her entire career thus far with digital, social media and content at the forefront of her work – a major shift that has opened up new opportunities, positions and even entire teams.

Recruiting agencies have even shifted their efforts to help companies meet the demand for these new types of specialists. Old school hiring processes simply can’t get the job done right, because the framework is no longer sufficient.

It’s a new type of expertise and experience that many people in traditional leadership positions lack – simply because the bulk of their career did not develop in the digital age. As a result, so many companies struggle to get the right people in place because they just don’t know how to hire them – which is in part due to the fact that degrees no longer tell the whole story and may actually have nothing to do with a person’s strategic and creative capabilities.

I was in a leadership role where I hired several people. I knew what to look for, because I had done the same work myself and understood it inside and out. As a result, I was able to bring in some really great talent, including a social media manager who had no real experience – but what she did have was a creative mind, good ideas, an eagerness to learn and a great work ethic. And while it took a little more guidance on my part at first, she turned out to be a great addition to the team.

At the same job, my boss decided to hire someone without involving me, which of course, she had the authority to do. The problem though was that this person would be working directly for me and doing a job that my boss did not quite understand. (We’ll just call this person Joe.) So, when Joe came on board, I didn’t quite know what to expect. The work was a little rough at the beginning, but that’s to be expected with a young, new hire. But as months passed, and after spending a lot of time with Joe on his work, nothing improved – the same mistakes were occurring and what was worse, Joe showed no real interest in improving or even the work he was hired to do. So, I approached my boss about it and she told me, “if he can’t do the job then just find something for him to do.” REALLY? 

Well, I later found out that Joe was the child of my boss’ good friend and replacing him with someone who actually had the skills we needed wasn’t an option. By no means did I want control over the hiring process – it just would have been nice had my boss gotten insight from someone who understood the job, because ultimately, it created more work for other people, not her.

Here’s the thing: I don’t tell accounting how to hire their people because I know diddly squat about accounting. Be honest with yourself. If you aren’t an expert in what you’re hiring someone to do, then get help from those who are. It means absolutely nothing about your ability to do your job – in fact, getting help makes you better at your job because it will result in you hiring the right person for the position. As the positions in your organization evolve, so must your hiring process.

You don’t foster a collaborative environment

The importance of collaboration has already been sprinkled throughout this article, but it’s so important that it’s worth mentioning again.

Creative people thrive when they have the time and space to think and imagine – and doing it together is even more effective. We don’t do well with rules, especially when it comes to being creative, so create an environment for your team that allows for constant collaboration and brainstorming. Of course, there must be some rules and work has to get done. But by creating a collaborative environment and encouraging your team to work together, you will give them the best chance at doing their best work – and enjoying it in the process.

Giving your team too many rules and restricting their ability to collaborate will ultimately cause them to blame you for their lack of creativity. Plus, they’ll hate you for making them hate their job.

You don’t provide frequent, honest feedback

This seems like a no-brainer, but unfortunately, it’s something a lot of workplaces lack. If you aren’t willing to give your employees honest feedback — and on a regular basis — then you can’t expect them to improve, grow or change what isn’t quite working.

News flash: as a leader, this is a large part of your job — leading.

Especially for creative folks, feedback is necessary to help keep their work – and often their mind – on track.

You don’t know when to give them space (and when to rein them in)

If you like structure, rules and a sense of predictability, you are not like your creative employees. Creative people need to be given the freedom and flexibility to do what they do best – be creative, problem solve and think outside the box – things that typically aren’t accomplished within the confines of rigid processes or structure. If you want to encourage innovation, and are serious about it, don’t constraint your creative people by forcing them to follow unnecessary rules simply because that’s always how things have been done at your office or company Allow your employees the flexibility of working at times when they work best, which keep in mind, likely won’t fit the strict schedule that you’re used to. Let them work remotely and outside of normal business hours. Don’t force them to check in and out every day. Don’t ask them where they are or what they’re doing every minute, either. If you give your talented people the autonomy they need to do their best work, good employees will get it done — and done well

At the same time, I’m not suggesting that you provide no structure – this is not a kindergarten class, it’s business, and in the end it’s your responsibility to make sure that the work gets done and results are delivered in a timely manner. The way you do that is by setting clear goals and expectations, along with specific ways to assess them. Frequently check in with your people, in order to keep things on track, but then back off. Be more of a coach than a dictator – give your team the framework, guidance and help they need along the way, and then let them play the game. Because for creative folks in particular, work is not work – it’s a passion. Don’t ruin for it them by making it seem like work.

With that said, I’m also not suggesting that you treat creative employees any differently when it comes to their ability to produce results. Again, this is not kindergarten. When you’ve given someone the chance to do things her way and she doesn’t get the job done — even after receiving thorough feedback — then it’s time to make some changes.

A note from Richard Branson’s playbook

There is a reason why so many companies today are shaking up the traditional corporate workplace —it doesn’t work anymore. Prioritizing innovation means providing an environment in which people can effectively innovate — where the needs of employees override outdated rules and structure. And for it to work, managers must get on board and lead the way. When you make your people the top priority, that’s when you will begin to see the extraordinary work they’re capable of. It’s a win-win for everyone.

If I haven’t convinced you, just take a note from Richard Branson’s playbook. When asked why his employees are the top priority, the Virgin founder saiid this:

"It should go without saying, if the person who works at your company is 100 percent proud of the brand and you give them the tools to do a good job and they are treated well, they're going to be happy… Happy employees equal happy customers. Similarly, an unhappy employee can ruin the brand experience for not just one, but numerous customers. Effectively, in the end shareholders do well, the customers do better, and your staff remains happy.”

In other words, happy people produce better results.

Alex Thomas