This article was originally published by HR Grapevine and is available here.
The impact of a good manager on an employee’s professional and personal life can’t be ignored. There are countless stories of both good and bad managers all over the internet, and this is for a reason.
Managers are often the closest or most meaningful relationship a worker will have, telling employees what to do, speaking to them every day, and being partly responsible for their professional development. When a worker has a good manager, this can influence their attitude, engagement, productivity levels, and almost every other positive aspect of their approach to work.
In a recent viral Twitter (X) post, a manager, also known as @siddhantmin on the social media site, shared text messages someone in his team sent him whilst drunk. Captioning the screenshot with ‘Drunk text(s) from (an) ex is okay, but have you received drunk texts like these?’, the image showing messages from an employee.
The drunk worker’s messages read: ‘Boss, I am drunk. But let me tell you this. Thank you for trusting me and thank you for pushing me harder. A good manager is more difficult to get than a good company. I am lucky. So, appreciate yourself.’
Finding a good manager certainly can be more difficult than finding a good company. Despite many recent studies suggesting that workers are increasingly looking for an employer that aligns with their values, offers flexibility and prioritises wellbeing above everything, having a good relationship with their manager is still considered of extreme importance to workers. This was exacerbated even more over the pandemic when professional boundaries were loosened, and workers became closer to their superiors.
A study from Inpulse, which surveyed 50,000 employees, found that 81% of workers who felt trusted by their line managers were more engaged, compared to 28% of employees who didn’t. The research also found that employees who felt supported by their managers had the biggest impact on how engaged they were at work.
“Many key elements that make for a happy and engaged employee are directly influenced by their manager, for example, access to training, promotions, or new projects,” says Mandy Watson, Managing Director at Ambitions Personnel. “In addition, the manager is often the ‘voice’ of the business and will be tasked with cascading down business communications, such as policies, procedures and changes. How these, even just menial or day-to-day, updates are communicated can directly impact how staff feel. Conversely, line managers are often the first port of call for your employee’s queries – and how basic things like holiday requests through to more sensitive matters are handled, or perceived to be handled, really do matter.
Because managers are essentially the stewards of a company and the representatives of HR policy, their managing style has an impact on the company’s culture and overall direction. With workers having just come out of a pandemic and quickly entering an economic crisis, managers having close relationships with their team members remains crucial.
“With challenging economic conditions now the norm, however, hard-pressed organisations will need to help their line managers play another pivotal role in securing their organisation’s survival,” says Arne Sjöström, Lead People Scientist at Culture Amp.
“Leaders that empower their managers to create safe spaces to talk through personal challenges with their teams will go a long way to addressing engagement and wellbeing - research published this year found that managers have as much impact on employees’ mental health as a spouse or partner (69%) — appreciably more than with their doctor (51%) or therapist (41%).”
Leading with compassion
Managers might aim to develop their own personal style, and this can be supported with learning and development management training from their organisation. “It’s of clear importance for managers at all levels to be trained effectively, at the very least, to ensure they act appropriately and legally,” Watson continues. “But especially given the current climate where staff retention is firmly on the agenda. Aside from practical training (i.e. what to do if someone makes a flexible working request or informs you they’re pregnant), some of the most impactful training can actually be around emotional intelligence.
“We often see people who are promoted into management roles based on their work performance, but a top performer doesn’t always equate to the best people manager – it’s a completely different set of skills. Learning skills such as self-awareness, empathy and listening can be transformational to someone’s leadership style."
Research shows that leading with empathy and compassion leads to increased output and business growth. There are many ways a leader can attempt to bring empathy and emotional intelligence into their leadership style. Sjöström says that low-cost strategies can enable organisations’ middle managers to re-engage and upskill their teams, which can help build trust in a company’s mission.
“First, managers need to lead with humanity – in prolonged challenging times, line managers need to adopt a new kind of leadership, showing vulnerability, humanity, and empathy,” explains Sjöström. “Managers admitting vulnerability, even at times when the organisation is struggling, quickly helps create a closer sense of trust between management and their teams.
“Second, prioritise transparency - since it’s hard to know what the future will bring, leaders and managers alike need to be attuned to their teams’ fears and not shy away from having difficult conversations. Such transparency permits greater employee participation in problem-solving and delivers more creativity in day-by-day work.
“Third, ensure you have regular, structured time with your direct reports - line managers that hold regular one-to-one meetings with their reports will better focus on the team’s challenges and create opportunities for managers to provide coaching. This approach demands that manager and employee jointly own these meetings, with both making time for self-reflection on key priorities ahead of each session, and ensuring they have those necessary but difficult conversations that might otherwise be put off.”
How good your middle managers are is of unquestionable importance to your organisation. Managers are the stewards of HR policies, hold together the organisation and maintainorganisational cultureand employee engagement. Numerous studies support the notion that employees also consider managers a defining factor of their experience at work. With management being so important, it's crucial for them to receive the necessary training to be able to perform competently. For many experts, compassion and empathy are at the heart of this training.