The last couple years have been tough on managers: they’ve been forced to navigate sky-high uncertainty, an ongoing global pandemic, shifting work conditions, and the Great Resignation.
With so much in flux, managers are understandably overwhelmed. And since they can’t tackle everything at once, a critical part of their job has become to identify the focus areas that matter most. But, what exactly are those key issues? We surveyed both HR leaders and managers to get their thoughts on the question, and found that a surprising disconnect exists between the two groups.
Managers are struggling with the fundamentals…
In October 2021, we asked 200+ managers to share the three areas of their job that they found most challenging. The results? Managers reported that the greatest overall challenge has been balancing team member workloads and combating burnout (44%), followed closely by recruiting, hiring, and onboarding new members (41%) and keeping track of their team’s work (37%).
In other words, managers have been struggling with the fundamentals. They’re primarily focused on keeping their teams afloat, and they don’t have the bandwidth to prioritize loftier goals.
…but HR leaders want managers to focus on transformation
At the same time, we also asked 200+ HR leaders what they saw as the primary responsibilities of a modern manager. An interesting pattern emerged: their priorities differed greatly from those reported by managers themselves. HR leaders said that managers should be primarily focused on facilitating transformation (53%), improving team agility (52%), and leading a high performance team (51%).
HR leaders expect managers to focus on high-level transformation efforts. These results reflect the pressure that many HR leaders feel from the C-suite to “get back to business” and make up for the precious time that was lost over the past couple of years.
Overall, our survey results highlight a key issue: a significant disconnect between HR leader and manager priorities.
Bridging the divide
Resolving this disconnect is critical to unburdening managers, driving team performance, and sustaining success in the long-run. Without the right support, managers will feel undervalued, burned out, and they’ll eventually leave. In fact, there’s evidence that this is already happening: according to Gallup, manager burnout increased by 25% in 2021 alone, and our own research found managers were 2x more likely to quit last year than individual contributors.
But what can be done to bridge the divide? First, HR leaders need to focus on helping managers with the basics before moving on to higher-level issues such as agility and transformation. Here are three tips for how to unburden managers.
1. Simplify complex processes
HR leaders can support their managers by simplifying and clarifying complex practices as much as possible. For instance, in place of a complicated, multifaceted values framework, HR leaders can select three to four values that managers and their teams should focus on (and provide examples of ways that they can embody those values). As another example, they could make a conscious effort to minimize the number of required company-wide training sessions, and instead provide options for self-guided and individualized learning for their people. Finally, it’s also important that leaders reach out to ask managers about other processes that are overly complex so that they can be promptly addressed.
2. Support team members directly
Another way to help managers is by helping their team members directly. For instance, HR leaders can invest in continuous learning opportunities that enable team members to develop the skills and abilities necessary to bring their A-game to work. As an example, one of our most popular nudges from 2021 encourages leaders and managers conduct a learning audit with each employee by meeting with them to discuss: (1) the most valuable skills to pursue, (2) a plan to practice these skills on-the-job, and (3) why these skills are important. By providing opportunities for team members to learn in the flow of their work, HR leaders will help to unburden managers, allowing them to focus their attention on addressing other key priorities.
3. Offer managers personalized solutions
HR leaders can also take the time every quarter to check in with each manager in order to understand what sources of support they need the most. This is important, because different managers have different needs: in our manager survey, those with less than 2 years of experience said that they’d benefit from resources that will help them give better feedback, while more experienced managers said they need support related to keeping their team members aligned to the same mission. This means that managers’ needs are not “one-size-fits-all”, and therefore providing effective support requires an individualized, custom approach.
Overall, by taking these actions, HR leaders will help their managers get back on track in 2022, thereby setting the stage for greater growth, agility, and transformation in the years beyond.