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Your Managers are in a Workplace Pressure Cooker. Here’s How to Help.

Your managers are in a workplace pressure cooker. Here’s how to help.

Traditional measures of engagement tend to show that employees attain greater levels of engagement as they move upward within an organization. Thus, executives tend to be the most engaged, then managers, with individual contributors trailing behind. This same relationship does not hold true when it comes to distribution across the four unique workplace personas outlined in our recent report, The Factors Driving Employee Experience Now: Quiet Quitting Edition. While managers do fall in between executives and individual contributors in some areas, in others, they are feeling nearly as disconnected as the individual contributors on their teams. 

Managers are a window through which employees view their organizations — both positively and negatively — and managers today are being squeezed like never before. The workplace whiplash incited by the pandemic and continuing for the better part of the last 2+ years has exerted increasing pressure on managers, both from leadership and from the employees reporting to them. Now more than ever, it's up to the organization to ensure they have the necessary support to rise to the occasion.

A Review of the Four Workplace Personas

Before we explore the challenges managers face, it’s helpful to review the four workplace personas as Perceptyx defines them. At the organizational level, it’s often useful to simplify the complex commonalities — and differences — among employees by classifying them into broad groups. One such approach is the creation of personas. 

In Perceptyx’s original 2021 research, four unique personas were identified along a continuum. When examined in 2022 through the behavioral lens of Quiet Quitting, further insight into the characteristics of each persona emerged. These personas and their breakdowns by role are:

  • The Energized (7% of individual contributors, 7% of managers, 11% of executives): Employees who take on this persona aren’t “Quiet Quitting” — they’re extremely and proudly productive. Their organization is a healthy place for them to be, now and into the future. 

  • The Contented (38% of individual contributors, 41% of managers, 51% of executives): Employees who take on this persona are the backbone of the workplace and represent the largest portion of the workforce. This group may feel passion for their work, but perhaps not for the organization itself. This group is likely to have at least one workplace need that is lagging behind the others. 

  • The Disconnected (36% of individual contributors, 38% of managers, 30% of executives): Employees who take on this persona are in a complicated, precarious situation and require organizational triage. The Disconnected are looking for another job more frequently than either the Contented or Energized employees, but the bigger risk to an organization is that most intend to stay, and they are frustrated. These employees were Quiet Quitting long before it had a trendy name.

  • The Neglected (19% of individual contributors, 14% of managers, 8% of executives): Employees or groups who take on this persona are really struggling. Their workplace needs are simply not being met, and they are looking for somewhere they can grow, connect, and thrive. They are 7x as likely to leave the organization in the next 12 months and are probably already looking: they are also 1.7x as likely to have applied elsewhere in the past year. 

Where Managers are Getting Squeezed

Persona graph

In recent years, organizations have placed increasing demands on their managers, at times leaving them to navigate novel situations without training or skill support. They have been tasked by leadership to quickly implement new policies (remote work, return to office, hybrid schedules, etc.), manage remote teams when they are used to co-location, and keep productivity high. 

During that same period, employees’ needs from managers have increased, including management of inclusion and belonging as well as mental and physical health during an ongoing pandemic. Managers must support their team members’ caregiving needs and gaps in schedules because of illness or quarantine while ensuring employees are safe in the workplace. They are also responsible for minimizing attrition, hiring for open roles, and getting employees onboarded and up to speed quickly. 

All of these competing priorities, often with little or no coaching about how to accomplish them, have taken their toll. Many managers across the Perceptyx benchmark database indicate this, citing a struggle with maintaining a healthy workplace climate, particularly manageable stress. While this is unsurprising, it’s noteworthy. 

Leadership Matters

What is surprising? Managers are struggling with people management, but not in the way one might think. They have the tools to manage their teams, but they are lacking a connection with their own supervisor to support them, empower them, and facilitate cross-department communication. Their supervisors, the organization’s managers of managers, have been asked to lead. In the process, many have neglected their role as a direct manager of their own team, and their teams are feeling left to their own devices. 

What happens when it’s not your individual contributors, but your managers who are decreasing their discretionary effort, telling friends and colleagues that the company isn’t a great place to work, and no longer answering after-hours calls? What message does that communicate to the large population of front-line employees in an organization?

This data makes clear that organizations can’t ignore the manager class. While it may be more difficult to get all managers together in a room for training than it once was, managers are clearly indicating that they need support and development. Organizations must support their managers with the right kind of coaching — personalized and delivered just-in-time — to develop the skills they need to meet these expanding demands.

The Three Factors Informing Employee Experience — And How You Can Use Them to Support Managers

Three distinct factors of employee experience became clear as our researchers examined the data. Within each factor, there are ways to support managers to improve manager effectiveness and performance while also increasing their connection to the workplace:

  • People Management 101: This factor encompasses traditional employee engagement measures: the basics of good people management, such as providing what people need to be successful in their roles, working in a respectful environment, and cooperating with coworkers toward a common goal. This factor uniquely emerged as the one where managers are lacking the most.

      • What Managers Can Do: Spend time working with your team and gather their feedback to understand what changes could be made to improve collaboration, communication, and overall effectiveness. Take it upon yourself to reflect employee performance back to them — whether through recognition for a job well-done or through constructive feedback on productivity or quality of work. Ultimately,  you are the steward of your team’s experience within the organization, and they need you.

  • A Shared Vision for the Future. The second factor measures three components of an employee’s future within the organization: the personal (do I fit here?), the developmental (does my manager support my growth?), and the aspirational (can I envision where we are headed together?). This factor is an important influence in an employee’s choice to go above and beyond in their current role. In the current employment landscape, it outpaces compensation and benefits in an employee’s desire to join, leave, or boomerang back to an organization. This factor is especially important at all levels of employment, but one that shouldn’t be neglected for managers.

      • What Managers Can Do: Take the time to understand where your team members’ interests and talents are. Assess places where they excel and places where they have room for growth. Once there, create a path and time in the day for this development to occur. Look for opportunities to connect your team to promotions, cross-training, and advocate for in-role elevation when they are suited to grow within their current role. Be honest and straightforward when growth opportunities don’t align with the organization’s goals and be ready to help them grow outside your organization if need be.

  • Healthy Workplace Climate. The third factor, a healthy and psychologically safe atmosphere within the workplace, has taken on new importance in recent years, driven by a global pandemic, increased mental health pressures, and a global focus on equity and inclusion. Employees need to know that they work in an environment where stress is manageable and well-being is important. They also want to work in a place that values diversity, and where it’s safe to be different. Specifically for managers, focusing on stress mitigation is essential.

      • What Managers Can Do: Set clear goals aligned to desired outcomes. Real productivity isn’t measured by hours on a time clock, but objectively through delivery to a standard. Most employees thrive in autonomy by completing their work in their own way, but they also need clear, achievable goals — and providing those goals is your job. Ensure that you don’t take advantage of your most Energized employees. They are willing to help anytime, anywhere, but when work can wait, encourage them to unplug.

Ongoing Workplace Conversations Are Part of a Manager’s Job — And Perceptyx Can Ensure You’re Listening to Them, As They Listen to Their Teams

Participation in the organization’s ongoing workplace conversation is part of every manager’s job, both in their role as a people leader and in their role as an employee. Whether designing a listening event, answering a survey item, creating and completing action plans based on employee needs, speaking up in their own team’s action planning sessions, or connecting with coworkers in productive and respectful ways, each manager has a role to play.

As an experienced listening partner, Perceptyx has a role to play, too — our platform and consulting expertise can help you with every aspect of your journey toward a world-class employee experience. To read our full report, click here. For more information on the ways we can assist your organization, schedule a meeting with a member of our team.

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