Are Managers Responsible for their Employees’ Failures?

As a manager of people, your task is far more than just the achievement of organizational goals. You are appointed to develop and lead your team, and leading a team means that, at some stage, some of your team members will make mistakes or even fail to deliver a positive result with a project. 

Ultimately, you are accountable for the mistakes and failures of your team members, but that is not always the case. As a result, there will be times when you are not responsible for your team members’ actions.

So, are managers responsible for their employees’ failures?

When can managers be held accountable for a team member’s mistakes?

1. When they neglect to deal with non-performers

Everyone should be allowed to make mistakes, but you do not address errors; this may lead to negative consequences and a breakdown in team morale. Instead, you find recurring patterns that have negative outcomes, and you break them.

I always strive to identify non-performers. This allows me to build capacity and skill into the struggling team members. If I don’t address the non-performance timely and the employee makes a crucial mistake or fails on a project, I will have to answer for the failure. 

If the non-performer gets away with shirking responsibility, it would be unfair on the other team members who may be putting in their best efforts to make our department able to contribute to the company performance significantly.

When this type of behavior is left unchecked, you, the manager, will be held responsible.

2. When they do not report on high impact mistakes or failures by specific team members

When a manager purposefully hides information about major mistakes and failures made by some of their team members, they become party to the negative impact of the shortcomings on the company’s results.

Yes, protect your team as much as possible from company “gossip”, but ask for help when you need to.

3. When communication is unclear or essential information is withheld

Vague or miscommunication can result in misinterpretation and suboptimal decision-making. This kind of communication can cause costly mistakes for which the manager must take responsibility. The impact of unclear communication can be far-reaching in terms of loss of profits, injury to humans, or even death.

As a manager, you are responsible for communicating goals, objectives, expected conduct, and other information to employees and coaching and providing discipline. If you do not execute these functions well, you will be held responsible for the adverse effects of your inefficiency.

4. When the manager does not deal swiftly with conflict within the team or with other departments

Conflict in the workplace is not always avoidable, which could be caused by a lack of cohesion among team members or the lack of buy-in regarding the individual responsibilities of staff members. The manager is responsible for taking charge and resolving the conflict, which, if left unattended, will lead to a breakdown in morale and a drop in performance.

It is difficult to task to restore relationships, but it needs to be done to ensure that the team functions effectively. You will be responsible for your team’s lack of performance and the mistakes that result from conflict that has not been resolved in the workplace.

5. When the manager does not act in an exemplary manner

I’m sure you’ve heard it many times before, but you really must lead by example!

If you desire to drive your team to top-class results, the way you work must show them how things get done. You cannot tell your team what to do and not ensure they know how and when to do the work. In this case, your team may make mistakes, but you will be responsible for the outcomes. 

Lazy and mean managers cannot expect any better from their employees. The staff members need to witness your eagerness and energy to strive toward the achievement of organizational goals. They need to see you as a star employee first.

6. When the manager does not deal with abuse among team members – sexual, physical, or emotional abuse

Sexual, physical, or emotional abuse have no place in the workplace. If you do not deal with abuse effectively, you will be held responsible for the hurt or injustice that your employees experience at work. The same goes for bullying in the workplace. 

Your staff may underperform or make mistakes under these conditions if you do not address the issues swiftly and professionally. Your unwillingness or inability to deal with the situations will make you responsible for your team’s resulting lack of performance. As always, ask for help if you can’t resolve these issues on your own, but don’t ignore them!

7. When a manager does not provide or arrange the necessary training to improve the competence and performance of team members.

Employees must receive adequate training to equip them for the tasks and activities required from them. In addition, appropriate training will contribute to your team’s confidence at work and improve collaboration and morale. Tasks can be performed much faster if employees know what they’re doing, and what’s expected of them. The quality of work will also improve.

There are instances where you, as a manager, cannot be held responsible for your employees’ behavior, mistakes, or failures. Every mistake or failure is not automatically your fault as the manager.

If you do not train your staff and they make mistakes or fail, you are responsible because you have been unable to build the knowledge and skills of your team.

When Managers are Not Responsible For Employee Failures

Here are a few cases where the manager is not responsible for the mistakes of his team members:

Non-conforming behavior by employees

In my personal experience, I’ve found that it pays to record non-conforming behavior by a team member. It is wise to document the behavior and the actions you’ve taken to address the situation. You must demonstrate that you have taken the necessary steps to address the behavior and make the process a growing experience.

If you fail to take the required action and follow the company’s disciplinary procedure, then you will be held responsible for the outcome of the adverse action. The buck stops with you!

If you have taken all the appropriate steps as listed above, you are not responsible for your employee’s mistakes or bad behavior.

Criminal Acts by employees

If an employee is found guilty beyond reasonable doubt of committing a criminal act like theft, then that employee is accountable and not the manager. Such an employee can be criminally charged in a court of law.

Gross negligence and misconduct by employees

Employees can be held liable for losses and harm caused due to gross negligence and misconduct when the employer has taken all precautionary steps to prevent harm from being experienced by people inside the business. In this case, the manager will not be held accountable for the mistake or failure on the part of the employee, which confirms that everything is not automatically your fault as the manager.

There are other instances of misconduct where you, as a manager, cannot be held responsible for your employees’ behavior, mistakes, or failures:

  • After repeatedly facilitating training and development to increase the employee’s knowledge and skills, team members may continue to make negligent mistakes. You may find that they deliberately failed to implement the knowledge they have gained, which has led to errors and failures. This blatant non-conformance may lead to business losses, physical injury, or, at worst, the death of a fellow employee.
  • Physical violence or abuse of the rights of fellow members of the company

See failure as an opportunity to learn

As the manager, you must set the tone in the team that “failure” is an opportunity to learn from this experience to make a better decision next time. The manager must provide employees with the necessary support and required to succeed.

It is also critical that the manager creates an environment where employees are encouraged to take calculated risks and know that you will support them. Of course, these risks may lead to failure or mistakes, but the worker needs to take risks independently without constantly referring to the manager for guidance or agreement.

Employees must feel comfortable asking why and challenging the status quo in the business and not think that they will get into trouble. However, if they fail, you should quickly help them to assess what went wrong and guide them through the process of continuous improvement. You want the employees to take ownership of what they do, and the company should commend their staff for extraordinary results achieved.

Are you afraid to fail as a manager? Here’s an article I wrote on this.

Conclusion

Employers are, under normal circumstances, liable for the actions and mistakes of their employees, but that is not always the case. Knowing when a manager is responsible for employees’ failures is the first step in being a good manager.

There is one aspect of management that you cannot abdicate from, and that is one that you cannot delegate. That aspect is – accountability.

The manager is also accountable for understanding his team’s role in the organization and how that team’s performance affects the entire organization.

When it comes to managing people, I’ve always made sure that I’m aware of my primary responsibilities, and those are the elements for which I remain accountable.

  • Team goals and deliverables
  • Behavioral shortcomings:  – follow the company’s disciplinary procedure
  • Performance issues: – counseling and guidance
  • Incompetence:  – Training
  • Team culture

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