2021 was overwhelming for everyone, but especially for overworked, stretched-thin managers. Humu research shows that managers are twice as likely to be on the job market today than individual contributors, largely due to the pressure of keeping teams motivated and engaged during the Great Resignation.
To better understand managers’ specific challenges, we went straight to the source. In an anonymous survey, we asked 200+ managers across industries about their biggest pain points and focus areas for the year ahead.
Here’s what they told us — and how leaders can help managers overcome their top challenges in the new year.
1. Managers want help addressing burnout
When asked what aspects of leading a team they were struggling with most, 44 percent of managers ranked combating team burnout and balancing workloads as their #1 challenge overall. This top priority was closely followed by concerns about effective recruiting, hiring, and onboarding, as well as keeping teams aligned to larger company goals.
Soft skills like beating burnout and building connections among team members trumped most managers’ concerns about productivity: only 21 percent of managers ranked “leading productive meetings” as one of their top four challenges.
When asked where additional support or coaching would be most helpful, managers again identified burnout as their most pressing priority, prioritizing it over support with time-consuming hiring and onboarding processes and performance review season. This was especially true for new managers: 58% of managers with less than 2 years of experience placed burnout in their top three most-wanted areas or additional support versus 44% of more experienced managers (those with more than 10 years of experience). More experienced managers ranked recruiting, hiring, and onboarding as their most challenging responsibility, with burnout still a close second.
To help your managers beat burnout, try this: Exercise empathy. Make it a point to acknowledge the wide spectrum of experiences within your department or organization. In 1:1 meetings, that can be as simple as asking managers: “How are you, really?” — and listening carefully to the answer. A sunny “back to business” attitude can backfire, and make you seem out of touch with people’s experiences. Instead, encourage everyone to do the best they can with their current emotional and intellectual bandwidth, emphasizing that you’re (still!) all in this together.
2. Managers are looking for better ways to know which team members need support, and when
In our survey, we also asked managers to rate how important certain skills or factors were in their success as a leader. “Knowing when team members need more support” came in at #1.
With fewer face-to-face meetings in the hybrid workplace, managers are having a harder time understanding which reports might be stuck or struggling. Over the past year, we’ve heard managers say that they feel as if they’re leading without one of their senses.
Many managers also told us they feel inundated by employee feedback, but aren’t sure how to act on that feedback. Often, the problem is too much data and not enough insight. Say you do daily pulse surveys: if an employee feels a 3 out of 5 on Tuesday, and a 4 out of 5 on Thursday, what’s going on? Where do they need help? Managers want to understand which actions they can take for the most possible impact.
To activate everyone, try leveraging technology like nudges: short, science-backed recommendations sent to individuals at all levels of the organization. Nudges help individuals take the right actions at the right time, which add up to huge changes at the team level. Nudges also prompt managers to ask specific questions in 1:1s (like, “What one thing can I do to better support you this week?” or “Is anything unclear or blocking your work right now?”) that help them uncover where they can be most helpful to their people.
3. Managers want to help their people grow
When asked what aspects of leadership they find most challenging, new managers named giving feedback, coaching, and supporting their direct reports’ development as areas for improvement. The newer the manager, the more support they want with helping their people grow: nearly half of new managers placed feedback and development among their top three challenges, compared to 27% of mid-career managers, and just 20% of experienced managers.
Strengthening skills while building new ones is key to employee satisfaction, retention, and productivity. But how can managers improve development when training programs don’t work and team members can learn by observation? The key is learning in the flow of work.
What most employee training programs miss is that if people go a week without applying new knowledge, they forget 75% of what they just learned. We see many large companies spending over a million dollars a year on manager training with no clear impact: while they see incremental improvement during the training, the moment is over, manager performance and ratings quickly drop right back to baseline.
To make lessons stick, find ways for managers and employees to practice their skills on a regular basis. In your next team meeting, help your team break long-term priorities down into smaller goals, each tied to a singular action that makes the goal possible. Ask each person to pick one thing to work on over the next week, then hold each other accountable.
When people practice their skills as part of their regular job, getting a little better each week, it helps build continuous momentum over time — and makes work a little easier for everyone.
According to our proprietary survey, managers share several common concerns for 2022: addressing burnout, knowing when people need support, and giving employees ways to learn and grow. By investing in these three areas (and beyond,) you’ll enter the new year a stronger, more capable organization than ever.
Make every manager a great manager. Schedule a Humu demo today.