CHRO Panel: How HR leaders can better support managers in 2022

Stephanie Andel, PhD
Team Humu

In a recent webinar, Cara Brennan Allamano, Senior Vice President of People at Udemy and David Hanrahan, Chief Human Resources Officer at Eventbrite, sat down with Humu CEO Laszlo Bock to discuss the top trends from Humu’s new State of the Manager report.  

Laszlo Bock (LB): The last two years have been a lot for anyone in Human Resources (HR), let alone the people leading it. What has been most challenging for you and your teams?

Cara Brennan Allamano (CBA): About six months into the pandemic, I got all of my HR team together to discuss how hard things had been. We had folks who were dealing with terrified employees. I said to them: “HR leaders are doing important work to help keep our workplace tenable and survivable.” 

David Hanrahan (DH): It feels like we have been dealing with perpetual change: we restructured the company, we changed how people work. For people teams, this brings about an onslaught of questions like: How do we do this? What’s next? Can we build a plan for these unforeseen, unprecedented circumstances? Our team is probably the most stressed out of the entire company from some of the recent data I've seen.

LB: What are you hearing from your managers?

DH: There's themes of lost connection and broken communication. Managers aren’t getting the information they need from senior leaders, and that creates a disconnect. So at the executive level, we’re wondering why managers aren’t doing XYZ, and at the same time, managers have basic human needs that aren’t being met. There’s broken communication, which then permeates through the rest of the organization.

CBA: I agree. I’m also seeing a disconnect between what's happening internally and the pull to reset expectations, drive business growth, and make up for the last two years. A lot of companies paused things like performance management practices because they were in crisis survival mode. Now there's a lot of pressure to get back to normal, but it's a new normal that hasn’t been articulated yet. 

LB: What are the findings from Humu’s State of the Manager Report that resonate most with you?

DH: Bad managers getting worse at communication really resonated with me. I think we hear a lot about toxic company cultures being a predictor of attrition, and I wonder if there is something similar there where toxicity and bad communication kind of go hand in hand. Communication in general has been a big part of our focus in lifting up our managers. 

Another thing that resonated for me was seeing that managers are having more after-hours and weekend meetings. We found something similar in our own data: our managers are in far more meetings than individual contributors, on average. This has been top of mind for us, and inspired us to launch a big experiment called “Async week”, which is one week when we have no meetings at all. 

LB: In the report we find that managers are 2x more likely to leave than individual contributors. Why do you think managers are increasingly ready to quit?

CBA: One thing I’ve heard from my other CHRO colleagues, and something that we’ve experienced a bit internally at Udemy, is that there seems to be a good amount of pressure placed on managers for some of the challenges that folks are facing during this time. 

We have senior leaders that are really pushing to drive business results because the pressure is back on to get back to normal, and then we also have individual employees who are frustrated, burned out, and want to make up for lost time during the pandemic by getting more development opportunities. So there’s pressure coming from the bottom and from the top, with managers in the middle. They’re in a really tough spot, and that's leading some to say, “This is untenable.” That's what I worry about the most, because managers are so critical to our success. 

LB: How can managers address burnout on their teams?

DH: In a recent internal survey, we found that managers have been asking their people for less feedback. This got me thinking about the one-directional, directive communication mode we got into during the pandemic - it seems like we forgot how important it is for managers to ask for feedback. So my advice is to guide managers to seek input from their teams. This can unlock many benefits, like team relationship building. And if managers have a better relationship with their team, they’re probably not going to lose their employees as much. This isn’t rocket science, but I think it's hard to do when you're in an urgent crisis mode.

CBA: I see this as such a strong opportunity for HR and people leaders - it’s a call to action for us. We need to think about what it truly means to be an HR person, and about the agency that we have to make a difference. We can support each other in the HR function by providing empathy and by coaching managers to show empathy themselves. It’s important to remind them that the relationship they have with their employees is actually the foundation, instead of the “nice to have”. This is a time for us to do our best work by going back to basics and really focusing on listening and empathy, and by helping managers action that.

LB: Let’s end on a positive note. What are you most hopeful about as you look to the rest of 2022?

DH: I think there's a yearning for human connection. In my industry, people want to interact with each other. I think we’re all going to be motivated to find new ways to connect with each other, not only in our communities, but also at work.

CBA: I get excited about the courageousness that we can bring to our jobs as people leaders. I think it's a sea change, and it can be exciting if we capture that for ourselves.

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