Originally posted on Forbes.
The pandemic year brought the long-simmering issues around “employee experience”—and work itself—to the fore. Recognizing the growing/changing personal challenges of work-family balance, health, and the expanding work day fell to managers—people largely trained for and skilled at something else entirely.
For too long now, managers have been trained to be dispassionate observers of their employees, implementers of systems and protocols, and rigid enforcers of time management—all in the name of productivity. In the last year, those things became irrelevant or downright counterproductive. No wonder data and surveys from meQuilibrium, McKinsey, and Gartner show that managers are stressed, under-resourced, and calling for help. As managers work to implement change 37% of HR leaders don’t believe their managers are equipped to lead change and 66% of their teams do not trust them or the leadership to navigate change or crisis.
Managers are feeling it. meQuilbrium’s internal data, which tracks hundreds of thousands of employees globally across many industries, shows that as of the fall of 2020, increases in worry about job security and health are two times higher among managers than among non-management members. And many managers at the low end of the resilience scale show many of the indicators of PTSD—at 34% higher rates than those of their non-management coworkers.
The 2021 Emerging from the Pandemic Survey by Willis Towers Watson indicates that of company leaders surveyed, 44% say developing/enhancing manager training is a top priority. According to Suzanne McAndrew, the global talent business leader at WTW, “2021 is the year of the manager. We are seeing their role and impact as more important than ever in these new ways of working (e.g., virtual, hybrid). They need to be empowered and equipped to care for their own well-being, manage and create connections with their teams and deliver on a high-performing employee experience in important moments that matter, like onboarding, career development and balancing work/life situations like caring for children or spotting signs of depression.”
Inevitably, challenges at the management level will become challenges for an entire organization. McKinsey reports that employee dynamics with management is responsible for 86% of satisfaction with interpersonal relationships at work — a key driver of job satisfaction overall. In fact, in another survey, 75% of participants said a bad immediate boss was the most stressful aspect of their job.
It’s time to take care of managers, to prepare them for the fluid task of running businesses in 2021 and beyond. I see three key areas of understanding that will make managers successful going forward.
1. They need training in empathy, listening and communication skills. The work persona—a form of armor that people wear to compartmentalize and focus—has been pierced. In today’s environment of constant and rapid change, continual empathetic communication is central to creating the trust that will enable teams to move quickly and perform in high stress environments. Also, emotions are nearer the surface now. Their team members need to feel heard.
2. Managers need adaptive capacity and the skills to foster it in their teams. Managers are typically recognized for competency in their area of expertise. Today’s imperative for change—in customer engagement, virtual work environments and technology— make agility and flexible thinking essential skills.
3. Managers need support and an emphasis on attending to their own self-care so they can offer it to others. They should be encouraged to honestly recognize and address their own feelings of stress, burnout, and uncertainty.
Managers may have new needs and challenges, but they also have new avenues to success. They can take advantage of the flexibility and agility introduced during the last year to build happier, more engaged and ultimately more productive teams. Doing so will take resourcefulness and resilience.