Hands up, who really wants to be a manager today, in an uncertain and fast-paced, post-pandemic world, where organizations worldwide are shifting to hybrid working and struggling to attract and retain talent, plus employees are demanding more attention than ever?
At the heart of operations, trusted to pull the strings, are managers, many of whom are promoted to their positions after excelling in non-management roles. “Managers often have the most accountability to the largest proportion of the workforce,” said Emma Price, head of customer success at management process automation company ActiveOps. “They are responsible for delivering against cost, quality, and service and managing customer outcomes.”
However, many would-be puppet masters are now tied up in additional, complex tasks that weren’t part of their already stacked workload in early 2020. They are crying out to be untangled by their bosses, yet evidence suggests the critical training and tools they require are not being made available. This lack of support is baffling when one considers the cost of the great resignation alongside the truism that “people leave managers, not companies.”
Microsoft’s Work Trend Index, published in March, concluded that “managers feel wedged between leadership and employee expectations.” The survey, featuring responses from over 30,000 workers across 31 markets, revealed that 54% of managers say company leadership is out of touch with employees, and almost three-quarters (74%) lament not having the influence or resources to implement the necessary changes for their teams.
“The future of work is here, and managers are not prepared,” said Sathya Smith, founder and CEO of Piper, a London-headquartered management platform. “Managers are expected to guide hybrid teams to success, manage employees’ emotional well-being, and promote a culture of unity with little to no training.”
No surprise, then, that in early 2021 healthcare provider Benenden Health’s research discovered 61% of managers in the U.K. admitted to suffering burnout since the start of the pandemic, and a fifth either considered quitting or actually did quit.
Many organizations with hybrid policies have trusted their managers to determine when and where their teams should work. That means hybrid managers need to be on top of coordinating when their team members should be in the office together and when they can work remotely. Plus, they need to stay on top of potential issues like proximity bias, along with their regular tasks.
That said, the issue of managers being under-equipped has been bubbling for years. Smith points to Gallup’s 2015 State of the American Manager report, which indicated that only 10% of managers in the U.S. naturally possessed the requisite skills to be good at their jobs.
“Managers are expected to surf this endless wave of ‘newness’ as well as guide their teams through it with outdated information,” said Smith, who argues that most off-site training is not fit for purpose. It might promise to “transform employees into star managers, but they often leave with little more than a pen,” she said. “The only way to support managers in this new age is to redefine management itself.”
To help, Smith believes managers should be hired because they have the necessary skills and are empowered to focus on managing. “This may mean that the title of manager is decoupled from the added reputational and financial benefits, or it may mean that we give more to those who excel in their field but don’t want to people-manage.”
Management crisis should dissipate
Cate Murden, founder and CEO of U.K.-based coaching company PUSH, agrees that the confluence of recent events and trends has created what she calls “the messy middle.” She said: “People were promoted too quickly during the pandemic, mainly for retention purposes, which has led to a management crisis. They have moved from being project managers to people leaders, without receiving the training or support required for the shift.”
The absence of support is taking a toll. “Even before the pandemic, people rarely had any form of managerial training, and now they have to learn how to manage teams in a completely different world, still without training or support, while also managing their feelings simultaneously,” added Murden.
To solve this challenge, she says employers have two options. First, they can supply rapid pain relief for managers, which involves halting everything, offering an open forum with leaders, airing frustrations, and ensuring those who need training and tools are handed them immediately.
Secondly, nodding to the adage that “prevention is better than cure,” organizations should gobble their vitamins. This is about taking a longer-term view and guaranteeing the talent pipeline never dries up. “By establishing the training programs are in place now for all future employees and managers, it means the management crisis should dissipate over time,” said Murden.
Naturally, such training schemes can be costly. But for those with tight purse strings, there are still options. Boston-based Kim Lanza, director of remote-first team member success at design and marketing firm Cimpress & Vista believes managers should team up. “Consider crowd-sourcing knowledge from your stronger managers to help teach others,” she said. “Create communities or meet-ups where your managers can come together, share experiences, and ask each other for help and advice.”
New skills required for hybrid working
Sharing knowledge and best practices only goes so far, Lanza concedes. Most companies will likely have trained managers in techniques better suited for in-person interaction. And for those who suddenly have to manage hybrid or remote teams, training and tools are paramount.
“This introduces a whole new set of challenges and opportunities to improve as leaders,” said Lanza. “Managers need fresh training and new forms of support to thrive in this new environment.”
Charly Toussaint, learning and development lead at Omnipresent, a fully remote HR services company with over 380 employees from over 50 countries, lists the must-have skills for remote managers. Communication ranks favorably, as does displaying one’s true personality. “Our highest performing managers offer complete transparency to their teams, in work and personally,” she said. “They are comfortable leading authentically, which means they enjoy greater connection.”
Similarly, heightened emotional intelligence is vital to support and motivate remote teams. “Observing remote team members’ well-being – body language or demeanor, for example – can be key in understanding how they’re actually doing, but is challenging on a Zoom call,” added Toussaint.
Worryingly, in a poll of 501 U.K. managers, conducted by the South Westminster Business Alliance at the start of 2022, 78% admitted they find it hard to identify signs of poor mental health among their employees.
Price, from ActiveOps, counters that the right technology solutions can reduce the burden for managers and potential training costs. “Virtual catchups have replaced in-person conversations that are essential in boosting morale and maintaining good relations, and that has led to the implementation of tools designed to support productivity and team balance,” she said.
These tools gather and analyze data on employees’ activities, which can be used to improve performance and support employee well-being. “Using these insights, managers can see how their team is performing to measure engagement and reduce burnout – all essential for staff retention,” Price added.
With the working world in flux, and managers caught in the messy middle, they need all the support, training and tools they can get.