The pandemic blew apart the world of work, as overnight, managers scrambled to equip, organise and engage remote teams. While remote working was difficult for many employees, others were glad to give up the daily commute and relished the flexible nature of time at home.
But now, post pandemic, work needs recalibration. And questions abound. Should everyone come back into the office as before? Should some roles be completely remote? Is hybrid here to stay, and if so, who will be in the office, when and for how long?
Some companies have made U-turns on remote work, and ordered staff back to the office (including, rather ironically, Zoom, the poster child for pandemic remote working).
For many employees, particularly working parents and carers, backtracking on flexible working is impacting their work life balance and wellbeing. There’s conflict too, as management demands ways of working that don’t necessarily chime with how employees feel they work best.
And lurking behind all this are the dual spectres of employee attrition, and quiet quitting, both signs of a disengaged workforce.
In such a state of flux and change then, what is most integral to navigating this uncertainty while delivering a positive employee experience in this uncertain period? Does the manager-employee relationship hold the key to navigating this period?
How managers impact the employee experience – and the bottom line
Through our work on employee surveys, we know how influential managers are to the overall employee experience (EX).
This is reflected in what we’ve found from thousands of data points in our benchmark data.
Looking, as we do, at employee experience through three different lenses (employee engagement, enablement and empowerment) we found that managers (and leaders) feature prominently everywhere:
• Leadership was the most common key driver of engagement
• Managers were the biggest driver of empowerment
• Managers were the most influential driver of enablement
And this perception of the integral role played by managers in the EX is only reinforced by research from the CIPD. This shows that managers influence the following areas, which also have knock-on effects on business outcomes:
Productivity and commitment
The best managers significantly increase the productivity of their teams. And because there’s a strong correlation between productivity and commitment, a good manager can help employees be more committed to their work.
And there’s more. One test of a good manager is their ability to coax discretionary effort from their employees – that is, ‘going above and beyond’ what’s in their job description or employment contract. For example, 38% of employees with lower rated line managers were prepared to volunteer for duties beyond their job description, whereas 74% of employees with highly rated managers were willing to put their hands up.
Innovation is an essential part of any growth organisation, but it requires trusting teams, and psychological safety for people to be prepared to attempt things without fear of failure. The majority of employees with lower rated managers said they would prefer to ‘sit on their hands’ rather than make innovative suggestions about improving quality.
Health and wellbeing
The physical and mental health of a workforce has huge significance for employees and the whole organization, and there are clear links between manager quality and health:
• 50% of employees with low rated managers felt work had a negative effect on their mental health, against 14% with highly rated managers
• Half of employees with a low rated manager felt their workload was too much, compared with a quarter of employees with a top rated manager
• Employees with low rated managers experienced work related stress most often
We all know that warm feeling of doing a job well, enjoying the process and the results. We also know that 88% of employees with top-rated managers are more likely to feel job satisfaction than those with lower rated managers.
‘People don’t leave jobs, they leave managers’, so the adage goes. Surprisingly, the research found that almost four fifths of employees said their relationship with their line manager was pretty good. Employees really value managers treating them fairly and with respect.
Attracting, recruiting and retaining top talent is critical for businesses as it’s expensive and time-consuming to get this wrong. Of employees who have a poor relationship with their manager, 45% thought they would quit their job in the coming year against 14% who had a good relationship.
“The only thing worse than training your employees and having them leave is not training them and having them stay”
That, famously, was Henry Ford's view. Unfortunately, career development has historically been a weak point of UK managers, with only half of employees believing their manager was able or willing to provide sufficient career development support.
As mentioned above, engagement is a key driver of employee experience. Our own ETS employee engagement survey benchmark data shows many examples demonstrating the impact of good management practices on engagement and the broader EX.
For example, data from one construction sector company showed that employees who have regular (quarterly) performance discussions with their managers score more highly than those who don’t have these conversations:
- Recommending the company as a great place to work (94% vs 82%)
- Feeling supported to do their job well (94% vs 76%)
- Having everything they need to do their jobs well (85% vs 71%)
- Appreciating a level of freedom in their roles to do their jobs well (94% vs 83%)
- Managers actively supporting their career development and progression (95% vs 64%)
- Ability to see their career progressing (82% vs 53%)
Four ways to help managers deliver the best EX
So yes – managers are indeed key to a better employee experience. As such you need to nurture and support them. Managing managers is similar to managing anyone else — you need to align their goals with yours, provide feedback, and help them develop their careers.
Don’t forget employee experience means every employee – including managers! So, apply the same principles. Empower managers, as well as your HR teams, to own their teams’ engagement and take action to improve their own experiences. Here’s how:
1. Create a culture of communication
A study by The Economist using a panel of over 400 US employees, managers, and senior leaders found that the lack of good communication directly impacted many important business outcomes:
- 52% said poor communication had added to stress
- 44% said communication barriers had led to delay or failure of projects
- 31% said communication problems had lowered morale
Encourage a culture where employees feel comfortable voicing their concerns, ideas, and feedback. Regular check-ins, team meetings, and ways for teams to provide confidential feedback, such as workplace surveys that measure what matters most can provide valuable insights.
2. Give managers the best tools to listen to their teams
Our data from a housing association found that business areas with a higher percentage of employees having regular 1:1 conversations scored more highly on the manager section, and also correlated with higher engagement levels in those areas.
Hosting regular 1:1 meetings with direct reports can really strengthen the employee-manager relationship, and engagement.
3. Coach managers
No manager is perfect, and the last few years have taken their toll on managers, many of whom have suffered from burnout. Make regular coaching for managers part of their continuing professional development so they can cope with new ways of working.
4. Insist on work-life balance
Make sure managers are taking the time off they need – and your organisation’s culture not only encourages this, but requires it. The C-suite need to model this for managers, and managers in turn need to model it for employees to create a healthy organisation.
Plenty of food for thought, I hope. So, how will you ensure your managers are supporting rather than detracting from delivery a great employee experience?