Understanding your manager's powers and limitations is crucial to a happy and balanced work life.
Employees are often scared of their managers—after all, managers have a tremendous amount of power over their direct reports.
But, what we perceive as reality isn't always true. There are some things your manager would really prefer you didn't know.
Here are five of them:
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1. I Can't Fire You
Sure, one of the definitions of manager tends to be hire/fire power, but the reality is, in the vast majority of companies managers don't have the ability to unilaterally fire their employees. What they do have the power to do is recommend a termination, but they can't carry through without a sign-off from the Human Resources department and their boss, and often the boss's boss.
Why is this? Well, companies have set policies in place for terminations. Usually, if the reason for termination is poor performance, companies have a set 30, 60 or 90 day performance improvement program (often called a PIP) that the manager must go through in order to terminate. This gives the employee a chance to fix problems and avoid termination.
Now, this doesn't mean that if you get caught stealing you won't be kicked to the curb by the end of the day, but everyone will be happy to sign off on that quickly.
Companies want to make sure the procedures are followed so that there isn't anything unfair. The policies allow for double checking to make sure no one is terminated because of race or gender and that similar consequences happen for similar bad behavior.
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2. I Don't Know What I'm Doing
Many managers—especially first level managers—received little to no know training on how to actually manage. Most people get promoted based on how good they are at "doing" rather than their innate talent for managing others.
This means your manager is likely to make mistakes. Sometimes managers aren't fair. Sometimes, they make mistakes in how they assign, how they provide feedback, and how they promote. It doesn't make your manager a bad person, just an untrained manager. Smart companies provide good training for their managers so that they know how to manage as well as do.
3. I Have Favorites
A good manager will, of course, not let that favoritism influence her decisions, but the reality is, managers are human. Humans like some people more than others. That's just reality. Your manager is going to share personality traits with some employees and not with others.
This favoritism can result in some really nasty dynamics in the department if the manager isn't careful about suppressing her feelings. She needs to make extra efforts to be fair and rational. When that doesn't happen and you're the unfavored employee, it makes sense to get out of that department as soon as possible.
Now many times good managers show favoritism based on actual performance. This isn't bad management, this is smart management. If your manager is giving plum assignments to the highest performer, that makes sense and is good management. Work harder and you'll come into your manager's good graces.
4. I'm Supporting Things I Don't Necessarily Like
Unless your manager is the CEO, she's reporting to someone else. This means that sometimes your manager is carrying out the instructions from her superiors even if she doesn't personally think it's the best idea. She may preach the party line like she's a true believer, but she's just as frustrated as you are.
It's okay to speak up and give reasons why you think this project or program is a bad idea, but once the decision has been made, you need to get on board as well. Your manager has, and if you want to succeed, you need to join up. Allow your manager to fight the battles with those above her. She will and your continued grousing doesn't actually help.
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5. I Can't Give You a Raise or Promotion
Just like with firing, raises and promotions require sign-offs from higher levels. Most companies have strict rules around who can and who cannot be promoted. For instance, no matter how spectacular your boss thinks you are if you haven't been in your current position for one year, or two years, you're not eligible.
For raises, there has to be money available. Managers don't have an unlimited supply. Frequently, companies will allot money for raises and once that money has been used, there's none available. Furthermore, your manager has to fight her peers for the money—there isn't an unlimited supply and if your manager's peer can make a stronger case for his employee to receive a raise than your manager can make for you, you're out of luck.
This doesn't mean raises aren't possible. It just means that you can't just go to your manager, make a request for a raise, state your case and see the increase in your next check. Likely, you'll have to wait until the next annual increase cycle. Sometimes your boss can get you an exception but unless there's a strong business case, you're probably out of luck.
Growth promotions—where you're just taking on a higher level of responsibility within the same job—are the same way. You need to wait until there is money available in the budget cycle for those to take place.
Managers have their secrets, but understanding where they are coming from can help you make sense of your working life.