How to Improve Manager Effectiveness and Help Employees Thrive

By Michelle Gouldsberry
Updated on December 15, 2022
5 minute read

We all know that many managers and employees are struggling at work. Countless studies have made that clear. The more pressing questions are why and what can organizations do to better support managers so they can be effective leaders? The evidence shows that strengthening managers has an immensely positive impact on an organization: Improving the employee experience increases productivity, engagement, and retention.

Why managers are struggling

The pandemic has taken an emotional toll on everyone, in many cases forever changing how we view and value work. In addition, the pivot to remote and hybrid work – while having many advantages – adds complexity to how managers and employees communicate, stay connected, and remain in sync with work goals and priorities. Managers must also be able to not only support work needs, but be highly relational as well. Such skills encompass helping to promote self-expression, showing empathy and respect for employees, maintaining a sense of inclusion and belonging for colleagues, and retaining (or in the case of new hires, establishing) a connection to company culture. And, now, another complication looms for some managers: the potential for layoffs , which can lead to trauma and increased workload for those who remain.

With managers and employees exhausted and often stressed, businesses face bottom-line pressures that will only intensify if the economy tips into recession. Organizations simply cannot function well when their people don’t. When coupled with the global skills shortage, the business impacts are immense:

  • $8.5 billion in unrealized annual revenues globally by 2030 due to a skills shortage (Korn Ferry)  
  • Approximately 50% of the workforce reports being disconnected (Gallup)
  • $7.8 trillion in lost productivity due to actively disengaged employees, who account for 18% of the workforce (Gallup)
  • Over 33% of newly hired employees quit in the first year (Work Institute), translating into increased recruitment and training costs and lower productivity
  • The cost to replace an employee ranges from 33% to 2X their annual salary (Gallup)
  • Cost of losing 10 employees is $1.5 million (Work Institute)

The statistics are sobering, but the good news is that much of this cost to businesses, not to mention the incalculable toll to peoples’ mental and physical well-being, can be alleviated. These solutions go beyond wellness and flexible work — as important as they are — and get at the heart of how to help managers:

  •  Improve communications and connection with employees and teams
  •  Remove barriers that inhibit productivity
  •  Gather data and that promotes informed decision making
  •  Align organizational and employee goals so that everyone is rowing in the same direction
  •  Facilitate the accomplishment of performance and personal development goals day in and day out  
  •  Recognize and celebrate achievement
  •  Rinse and repeat

Managers are the multipliers in the organization

Managers have an outsized impact on employee well-being, engagement, productivity, and retention. According to researchers at Zenger/Folkman, 62% of employees who rank their managers highly are willing to go the extra mile and only 3% are “quiet quitting.” The opposite is equally true: Employees often leave their managers, not their company. DDI found that 57% of employees left their jobs because of their boss. Likewise, a Visier study in the UK discovered that 43% had left one or more roles due to a “bad boss” and another 53% were considering leaving or switching roles because of their manager.

This, in no way, is meant to throw managers under the proverbial bus, but rather, to highlight the critical need to properly support and enable managers. A high-performing individual contributor who is promoted to a management role requires soft skills, mentoring, training, peer support, and a host of resources to help them be an effective leader. Yet, as many as 60% of first-time managers never receive any training according to the Center for Creative Leadership.

Managers need support from their organizations

A recent study by Red Thread Research reveals that managers have become less effective since 2020 primarily because they’re receiving less support from their organizations. The responsibility for reversing this trend rests with senior HR leaders and executives to “change their practices and systems that support managers to improve their effectiveness.” 

Our 6 Steps to Strengthening Your Managers infographic details the actions that Betterworks believes companies can take to better support their managers and, by extension, employees. These include having your senior leadership lean your their managers with more frequent 1:1 conversations, establishing peer support groups for managers, and analyzing data from your performance management system to determine the health of manager-employee relationships and the links between goal accomplishment, productivity, and engagement.

How to help managers revitalize their teams

Findings highlighted in our e-book, How to Strengthen Manager-Employee Relationships: Tapping into the Transformative Power of Conversations, reveal the top five things managers say they need to be better are:

  • More upskilling and reskilling resources 
  • Flexible goal-setting tools 
  • Technology to deliver feedback and recognition 
  • Better communications tools 
  • Better support for employee check-ins

We found that meaningful communications to build strong relationships are desired by employees, as well. Employees want check-ins with managers to be more focused on career growth, goals, and collaboration. Yet fewer than half said check-ins are working well for them. And, despite the many studies that repeatedly show career development as a key desire of employees, we found that 53% of employees don’t discuss career and growth with managers more than once a quarter. One in five never have these discussions. 

Regular and frequent conversations and feedback about both performance and development build authenticity, accountability, and trust, as well as improve performance outcomes. Gartner research shows that high-quality feedback boosts employee performance by 14%. In addition, managers who have the capacity to tear down barriers that inhibit employees from accomplishing their work and who see their role as that of a guide and a coach are far better positioned to unleash the capabilities of their employees. 

Meaningful conversations help managers go from good to great

The best managers know how to harness the power of meaningful and regular conversations to positively impact their employees. Yet, for many managers, conversations about performance and goal development are complicated and even stressful.

The Manager’s Ultimate Guide to Great Conversations offers detailed guidance about how to create and maintain positive and effective relationships with employees by structuring conversations in a way that provides clarity, connection, and trust. Beyond having regular meetings, managers and employees should have a consistent way to document progress and performance, achievements, development, and recognition. Manager and employee observations and discussions will take on more meaning and value when both parties have a set of relevant and repeatable question templates they can apply to their conversations.

There are many different types of conversations a manager can have with employees — 1:1 progress check-ins, troubleshooting and triage, development coaching, recognition, and performance reviews. Making sure that these conversations are meaningful requires a cadence, planning, and structure. The anatomy of a good conversation can be broken down into these steps.

The future of work requires human-centered leaders

The qualities of being authentic, a good listener, a clear communicator, empathetic, open-minded, and flexible have always been important qualities in any leader. But whereas they were once considered nice-to-haves, they are now table stakes for employee-first organizations and are expected by employees. Investing in strengthening managers through tools that promote alignment, flexible goal-setting, high-quality conversations and better collaboration can yield better business outcomes while making work better for all.

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