26 September 2023

COVID silver linings: Better managers

Start the conversation

Steven Buck* says the lessons people learnt during the pandemic could make better leaders of them.

At a time when the role of the manager has arguably never been more challenging, we’re starting to re-evaluate what ‘management’ really means.

In the new world of work we need to drop the old command-and-control mindset and replace it with one more in tune with the realities of a fast-changing workplace.

By applying a people-centric approach, which acknowledges that an individual’s happiness and success at work is an important metric of managerial success, key workplace relationships can be strengthened or even transformed.

Organisations that believe their employees are both strong performers and highly engaged see 65 per cent higher profitability compared to their peers.

And clearly, an employee’s relationship with their direct manager has a strong influence on their ability to do their best work.

LinkedIn research shows people would rather accept lower pay than deal with a bad work environment.

Good managers equal more engaged employees

Glint’s recent research shines a light on these recent developments, showing how managers are doing on a number of fronts.

The study combines research from 3.4 million employee engagement surveys on the Glint people success platform with LinkedIn behavioural and survey data.

Some key findings stand out.

We asked 2,000 plus employees around the globe to report if they felt managers or senior leaders had a greater impact on specific aspects of employee experience.

Across the board, managers outshone their senior counterparts, with the strongest contrast occurring in professional development and the ability to set boundaries between personal and work life.

Employees that recommend their managers are 2.3 times more likely to be engaged, two times more likely to stay with the organisation and 2.3 times more likely to have clarity about their company’s strategy.

People are more engaged

Despite the challenges of the pandemic, employee engagement among managers rose 5 per cent in the past year.

In fact, employee engagement rose across all roles and levels in 2020.

Our data suggests three likely factors are driving this:

  1. Purpose: Many managers took on a new sense of purpose this past year, as they provided a critical link between their organisations and their teams during challenging times
  2. Support: People felt supported by their organisations when senior leaders took measures to keep them healthy, safe, focused, and well-informed amid drastic changes in their work environments
  3. Gratitude: During previous economic downturns, people have felt grateful to keep the jobs they have.

The rise of ‘belonging’ as a key work value

Given the challenges we’ve been living and working through, it’s no surprise the research shows that wellbeing stands out as a top priority.

Ninety-two per cent of employees say it’s very or extremely important to have work conditions that keep them safe and healthy.

In addition, 94 per cent of employees are interested in an ongoing ability to work remotely.

And cultivating a sense of belonging is of course key to your team’s wellbeing: 94 per cent of employees say it’s very or extremely important for their manager to help team members feel that they belong.

When belonging is fostered in the workplace, employees feel accepted within a community that shares a sense of purpose and willingness to invest emotional energy.

Managers cultivate belonging when they actively support and appreciate varying styles, perspectives, and ideas.

Managers are feeling the strain

However, there’s reason to keep an eye on managers’ well-being.

The pandemic added a storm of new tasks and decisions for almost every manager, amplifying challenges that aren’t entirely new, such as collaboration overload (the constant deluge of meetings, chats, and emails).

Between Q1 and Q4 of 2020, the peak of the pandemic, manager burnout increased 78 per cent; while the number who watched the LinkedIn Learning course Managing Stress for Positive Change grew seven-fold between 2019 and 2020.

For managers, ‘heavy workload’ was the most frequently cited woe associated with burnout, but there’s also likely an under-reported factor: the prevalence of illness and loss that has touched so many people.

But while managers face tough challenges, the good news is that technology is making it easier to support managers, particularly through employee feedback and collaboration pattern data that are helping firms rethink the manager experience.

Recognition of the role of women in the new world of work

Another piece of research Glint conducted into employee well-being revealed that women feel a heavier burden from their workload than men.

  • Overall, women cited experiencing overwhelming workload 20 per cent more frequently than men
  • In smaller organisations (those with up to 1,000 employees), women cited experiencing overwhelming workload 28 per cent more frequently than men
  • At the leadership levels (manager and higher), women cited experiencing overwhelming workload 41 per cent more frequently than men.

Managers need to step up and deal with this as a priority—and moving to a more people-centric management approach will be fundamental in doing so.

Lessons we need to learn

What does all this signify for managers as we enter the second year of the global health crisis?

The data shows that challenges are tough for today’s managers.

But on an optimistic note, it also shows that many have converted hardship into an opportunity to learn and grow.

For example, the number of users signing up to LinkedIn Learning with senior responsibilities grew by 102 per cent from 2019 to 2020, with a 49 per cent increase in learning hours per manager.

Meanwhile, overall LinkedIn Learning saw the number of learners more than double, recording a 45 per cent growth in hours per learner.

And in the true spirit of people-centric thinking (of co-creating an environment that brings out the best in employees) employees across industries and geographies have embraced learning as never before.

This underlines how managers see embracing learning and growth opportunities to help the people they manage, and their wider organisations.

Another trend has become clear: managers have a very high impact in inspiring their team members to embrace new knowledge, new skills, and career advancement.

No less than 91 per cent of employees say it’s very or extremely important for their manager to encourage learning and experimentation.

The key to the changing workplace is to understand the new role, and contribution, of the line manager in its positive transformation.

*Steven Buck is Head of People Science (EMEA) at Glint, part of LinkedIn.

This article first appeared at management-issues.com.

Start the conversation

Be among the first to get all the Public Sector and Defence news and views that matter.

Subscribe now and receive the latest news, delivered free to your inbox.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.