The pandemic made bad managers even worse in these three areas

While the extra pressure of managing in a pandemic has brought out the best in some managers, it’s made lousy leadership more glaring than ever. Employee trust levels are at record lows: in a 2020 Gallup poll, less than half of employees (45%) felt strongly that their employer cared about their wellbeing. By 2021, that number had dropped to 32%. 

Companies can’t afford to lose employee trust, especially when employee turnover is hitting record highs. A bad manager who struggles to motivate their team can cost an organization several times their own salary in lost productivity and employee replacement costs. 

When it comes to leadership, there’s a large, costly gap between those that have the skills to lead and those that don’t — and our proprietary research shows that the gap is getting worse.

The managerial skills gap 


To understand what makes some managers excel while others falter, we studied more than 50,000 managers and their teams.

We looked at how teams rated their manager’s overall performance, as well as their responses to a series of more specific statements including, “My manager helps me to prioritize and adjust my workload“ and “My manager builds and strengthens the relationships of people on our team.”

Between summer 2020 and summer 2021, we found that the gap between the best and worst managers widened--and that the gap was driven by bad managers getting worse.

Overall, the five key habits of the very best managers (as rated by their direct reports) are:

  1. Prioritizing projects
  2. Seeking feedback
  3. Creating structure
  4. Building relationships
  5. Supporting employees’ long-term goals


Managers whose teams rated them highly overall also scored highly for all of these five habits. “Top managers have consistently stayed great, even through the pandemic,” says Dr. Stefanie Tignor, Humu’s Director of Analytics, “But managers at the bottom are getting worse at communication, listening, and feedback.”

In other words, our research shows that the lowest rated managers tend to need the most help in three main areas:

  1. Communicating
  2. Listening 
  3. Seeking feedback


How to make every manager a great manager


To help bad managers get better, our research suggests focusing on the three areas where they need the most support: communication, listening, and seeking feedback. And rather than burdening managers with time-intensive training programs, science shows that nudges—small, digestible recommendations—are far more effective at driving improvement.


Nudges are a great way to help managers follow through on good intentions and experiment with better ways of working. In fact, 90% of teams who get nudges say the nudges make their managers noticeably better at their jobs. Here are some sample nudges to help steer managers in the right direction, in the areas that matter most.

Nudge 1: Communicate the team’s direction


Develop and socialize a concrete vision for your team — one that’s independent but connected to your company’s mission.

In your next 1:1s, ask questions to make sure each member understands and feels personally connected to the team’s direction. As you discuss specific tasks, clarify how they fit into the bigger picture.

Nudge 2: Encourage exploration

As a manager, you play a major role in how your people collaborate, especially when disagreement arises. The next time a conflict happens, ask questions to help your team work through it. Try, “How did you arrive at your view?” or “Can you say more about that?”

Set an example by listening carefully to all sides, acknowledging valid points, thanking everyone, and then presenting a reasonable solution. 

Nudge 3: Explicitly create space for feedback

Announce to your team that you’re making yourself open to feedback for an entire week—you’re all ears for anything they have to share with you, including ideas for how to be a better manager.

Encourage team members to do the same by asking each other (and you!) for specific feedback on how they can improve.

Be sure to keep your team updated on any changes you make based on what you hear. The more you can tie your actions to feedback, the faster you’ll build trust.

….But don’t forget to empower the entire team 

Managers are already overwhelmed, especially in 2021. Since early 2020, managers’ after hours meetings have gone up by 25% and weekend collaboration has tripled — it’s no wonder that our research shows that managers are 2x more likely to be looking for a new job than team members.

Managers can’t improve unless their teams are working to improve, too. That’s where nudges can also help: by activating everyone at every level, not just those at the top. When people get better, managers’ jobs get easier, giving them more time to focus on what matters most.

The good news is that with nudges, even poorly rated managers can get better. 84% of nudged managers take action to improve, according to their direct reports. And across all Humu clients, overall manager effectiveness actually improved over the pandemic thanks to nudges, even in one of the hardest years for  managers yet.

Bad managers can get better. All it takes is small changes, adding up over time and across teams, to create big results.  


Empower every manager to be a great manager.
Schedule a Humu demo today. 

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