New study: Great managers make it easier to weather hard situations

Sara Gottlieb-Cohen, PhD
Senior Data Scientist

In our conversations with Chief Human Resources Officers at global organizations, many told us their companies have hired up to 40% of their workforces over the past two years. For the millions of employees who started new jobs after March 2020, pandemic-era working relationships are all they’ve ever known at their company. So we became curious: what, if any, effect did starting a new role during a global pandemic have on important metrics like belonging and employee satisfaction?

To understand the long-term impacts of working in a pandemic and how to make work better during challenging times, our data science team analyzed 32,000+ employees from Humu customers across multiple industries. We compared three groups of employees:

  • Those hired during the winter of 2019 (which we treated as our baseline)
  • Those hired just before the pandemic (our “pre-pandemic” group)
  • Those hired during the summer of 2020 (our “post-pandemic”group)

Looking at trends among these three groups, we noticed one surprising difference in employee satisfaction.  

People hired during the pandemic tend to be less happy — unless they see their manager taking action

Employee happiness tends to peak in the first year or two on the job—while things are still new and exciting—and then decline as time goes on. But within the group of employees hired post-pandemic, this trend didn’t hold: these employees were 4 percent less satisfied with their jobs at the outset than their peers who were hired before the pandemic had been, despite the fact that they hadn’t been at their jobs as long.

We measured happiness based on employees’ ratings of statements like, “I would recommend this company as a great place to work,” “I often experience positive emotions when I’m working,” and “I am passionate about the work I do.” (Note that the organizations we analyzed did not experience mass layoffs, which can dramatically affect morale.) 

Lower satisfaction rates for pandemic-era new hires could easily be a side effect of disjointed remote onboarding, as companies rushed to move training online in the early pandemic. Or, it could be that new hires didn’t get the chance to establish close in-person relationships with their coworkers before the pandemic — relationships that colleagues hired just a few weeks earlier were able to build and lean on in tough times. And potentially, new hires’ dissatisfaction has less to do with the work itself than with starting a new job in a global crisis, when outside stressors made it hard to feel connected to the work.

People who notice their manager taking action on Humu nudges are 16% happier, no matter when they were hired. 

However, we found, employees who noticed their manager taking action on Humu nudges were 16% happier no matter when they were hired — even if they started their jobs in the tumultuous times of the pandemic. 

Manager support offsets the emotional weight of the pandemic

We saw that managers taking action was the leading indicator of employee happiness, negating the impact of starting during the pandemic. Post-pandemic hires who observed their manager taking action, in fact, were just as happy as their peers. In other words, when managers make noticeable efforts to support their employees, their employees feel better about the company, the team, and their work, even in stressful times. 

These findings align with the results in our recent report What Employees Need From Managers in 2022, which showed that people with a manager who makes an effort to protect them from burnout are 13x more likely to be satisfied with their manager. Meanwhile, those with a manager who does not make an effort to protect them from burnout are 3.1x more likely to have felt burnt out over the past 6 months.

Employees whose manager makes an effort to protect them from burnout are 13x more likely to be satisfied with their manager.

Employees hired during the pandemic are happier with their managers 

People hired after the pandemic hit tended to give their managers higher ratings than their more tenured colleagues. Newer hires, for example, were more likely to agree with statements like “My manager creates an environment where it is safe to speak up and take risks,” “My manager makes me feel appreciated for the work I do,” and “I fully trust my manager to act in my best interest.” These results indicate that pandemic-era hires experience a stronger sense of psychological safety—created by their managers—which is proven to boost innovation, satisfaction, and retention. 

This strong connection to their individual manager persists even though pandemic-era hires feel less connected to their organization as a whole. Pandemic hires gave lower ratings to the statement “I feel a strong sense of belonging” than pre-pandemic hires, possibly because they haven’t met as many of their coworkers in person or had the chance to establish deeper social relationships on the job. Pandemic-era hires are also less likely to say they recommend their company as a great place to work, or that they feel passionate about the work they’re doing. 

Thankfully, those negative opinions of work overall can be mitigated by a proactive manager: one who takes action on nudges and is responsive to employee feedback. A great manager can bridge the belonging gap, help overcome negative long-term impacts of the pandemic, and inspire employees to do their best work — even in the worst of times.

Ready to make it easy for every manager to make noticeable improvements? Request a Humu demo today