In 2021, we sent millions of nudges—short, science-backed suggestions—to managers across the world. Each nudge included a bite-sized action they could take to support their team and make work better during year two of the pandemic.
So what small actions had the biggest impact in a time filled with stress, continued isolation, and uncertainty? Our data scientists analyzed every single nudge we delivered in 2021 to find out. Across themes like staying connected, combating burnout, and making progress, these were the 5 nudges that managers told us helped them the most.
1. Inspire customer champions
Across industries, managers’ favorite nudge asked them to talk to their people about the critical role they can play in improving customer experiences. “Try to share a story about a problem that was only solved because someone spoke up,” the nudge suggests. When employees advocate for customers, everyone benefits.
2. Conduct a learning audit
Managers everywhere are focused on helping employees build critical new skills, both for the strength of the company and for employee satisfaction. So it’s no surprise that managers loved a nudge about choosing which employee skills to focus on.
A key part of the nudge is helping employees decide how to practice those skills in their day-to-day work. The more often we practice a new skill or habit in the context of our other work, the more likely it is to stick. And when skills stick, people tend to stick around: employees who don’t feel that their work utilizes their unique personal skills are 6.6x more likely to leave their organization.
3. Coach employees to create mini-milestones
In a year of rampant burnout and resignations, managers are eager to keep employees motivated. People who don’t feel like they have clear, achievable goals are 6.2x more likely to leave their company than those who regularly hit meaningful milestones.
One easy way to build momentum is to help employees break big, overwhelming tasks into mini-milestones, which was one of 2021’s most popular nudges. Small wins keep employees motivated, which leads to bigger and bigger wins over time.
4. Spread leadership around
With managers stretched thinner than ever, a nudge about smart delegation struck a chord. Rather than jumping in to solve a problem, the nudge suggests, “Ask who wants to step up to lead the team.” Empowering employees to take on a leadership role and make their own decisions can significantly improve morale — and help build the next generation of strong leaders. If employees aren’t empowered to succeed, we’ve found, they’re empowered to leave: employees who don’t perceive that they have growth opportunities are a whopping 7.9x more eager to leave their company, even if they otherwise like their jobs.
5. Together, one step at a time
Rounding out the top five nudges of 2021 is a nudge that asks managers to help their people pick one thing to focus on over the next week, and then hold them accountable. When managers support employees in setting boundaries—if everything is a priority, after all, then nothing is—they keep employees motivated and productive for the long haul, even during stressful times.
Across industries, these top nudges show, managers are focused on giving their teams a sense of progress and growth in trying times. But that sense of progress is elusive, explains Dr. Stefanie Tignor, Humu’s Director of Analytics, “when every day at home feels the same.” Employees who feel like they’re directly contributing to the company mission are 6.3x more likely to remain in their role than employees who don’t believe their work significantly contributes to the company. Cultivating a sense of progress, then, helps managers keep top talent amid the Great Resignation.
Yet, managers’ specific areas of focus —and their favorite nudges— vary by the type of industry they work in.
Tech companies, for example, struggled less with communication and team alignment than other industries, often because they offered WFH options pre-pandemic and were thus better positioned than other sectors for the transition to hybrid work.
Instead of working on communication, tech companies focused on combating burnout. The top nudge for managers at tech companies was about encouraging their teams to block off personal time on their calendars to improve work-life balance.
Among financial services companies, meanwhile, building a strong, cohesive remote work culture is still managers’ top priority. According to managers in that sector, the most impactful nudge was about summarizing next steps in team meetings to prevent misunderstandings, especially on virtual calls.
In the healthcare industry, which includes biotech companies responsible for developing lifesaving COVID-19 vaccines, it’s no surprise that innovation and progress were key. But managers’ top nudges also focused on building up employee morale and combating cynicism. The top nudge for healthcare overall encouraged managers to “Offer support—not a rescue,” reminding employees that their manager is there to support them even when they’re in charge of a project.
Telecommunications managers focused on employee appreciation. The top nudge urged managers to “Make noise for many,” celebrating the accomplishments of teams rather than singling out individual workers. Breaking long-term priorities into short-term, actionable goals was also a key focus, with several top nudges focusing on the role of teamwork.
Looking at the top manager nudges of 2021 is a window into what managers care about most: as managers’ priorities or preferences shift, their nudges shift, too. Nudges also change based on what’s happening at their organization, recent changes on their team, and what their employees are getting nudged on at the same time.
2022 will be all about giving employees—especially managers—the support they need to thrive. By making work a little better every day, managers can retain their top talent, combat burnout, and give everyone chances to grow in the new year.