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Employees Really Do Leave Managers. Use L&D to Change That

With some strategic learning and development help, managers can increase employee engagement, collaboration – and reduce their own work loads.

co_0902_lead_302This was one of the most popular stories on CLOmedia.com for 2016.

If you ever second-guessed the impact bad managers have on their employees’ engagement, you needn’t anymore. According to Appirio employee engagement study results released in July, employees really do leave managers, not companies.

A range of factors contribute to employee engagement: fair compensation and benefits, adequate tools with which to work and the appropriate training to do it. “But at the end of the day, if employees don’t have a connection to their manager or their manager’s skills are lacking in engaging them, connecting them to their work and to one another, the employee will look elsewhere,” said Ellen Humphrey, senior vice president of human resources at Appirio, a cloud-based products company for employee and customer service needs.

When it comes down to it, having free snacks in the employee break room, for example, isn’t as important as having a manager who appreciates his employees.

Ellen Humphrey headshot_255

Ellen Humphrey

According to the report, “The Human Touch for Tech Talent: Employee Retention Could Be as Simple as ‘Thank You’,” employee responses to questions about what attracted them to a company and what kept them there say as much. The survey showed that 60 percent of employees said when analyzing a job offer, knowing whether staff feel appreciated by managers matters. Variables like how fast a person could move up in the company or how they’d be evaluated for raises were of lesser concern.

Other highlights from the survey included:

  • 33 percent of respondents want to know their manager always has their back compared to 22 percent of people who valued having a clearly defined career path, and 17 percent of respondents who found it important to receive regular performance feedback.
  • 32 percent of respondents who looked back at ‘worst boss’ experiences said that person never gave credit where it was due.
  • 28 percent of respondents to the same questions said that person rarely gave verbal praise or support.

Perhaps even more troubling, nearly 50 percent of the research participants felt somewhat or totally disengaged.

Humphrey said companies can make a dent in employee disengagement and turnover by examining what values they prioritize with managers. For instance, measuring and coaching managers on team production and output is important, but that can’t be the exclusive focus. “What might be a better approach, and what many good companies are doing now, is placing an emphasis on managers’ ability to connect with the team, to engage the team in the work.”

Employees need to feel included, connected to their work and acknowledged for their contributions. Increasingly new tools facilitate those efforts, which drives employee engagement and subsequently customer experiences and business results.

In the study, 36 percent of employees said that going on a team outing to celebrate a collective success was the best way their boss could show appreciation for completing a tough project. A small spot bonus or gift — 28 percent — and a thank you email — 19 percent — also ranked high to show employees they were valued.

Because many managers may not be socialized to effectively lead and support others, Humphrey said learning and development are key to improve manager-employee relationships. Training support to help managers build relationships with intentional communication, delegate work and shift the traditional mindset around manager as “the boss” can help improve this bond that will feed greater engagement.

Humphrey said many managers don’t get relationship training, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need it. When managers can get to know employees not as cogs in the work wheel but as individuals with unique strengths, interests and goals, they can start building stronger relationships grounded in trust and respect, which are integral to collaboration.

It’s especially not uncommon for inexperienced managers to feel they must carry all the work for it to get done, but in not delegating to employees, they are disempowering them and holding back opportunities to collaborate and to learn. Humphrey said when managers empower employees to do new work and help them in the process, managers become teachers, and employees become learners who are held accountable, have responsibilities and who can take pride in their work.

“When managers hit that sweet spot of delegation in more of a coaching mindset rather than a doing mindset, that can really increase engagement,” Humphrey said.

None of these efforts can take place in any sustainable way without the right mindset. The traditional notion of the manager as the boss tucked away in a corner office is changing for many reasons including shifts in organizational structure, Humphrey said. And that mindset must continue to change if companies want to see the impact of better manager-employee relationships.

“That traditional notion creates a separation,” Humphrey said. “The new narrative is less about boss and much more about collaboration about guide, about counselor.”

Otherwise, employees feel like a number, she said. They don’t feel recognized for their unique contributions, and they’re not connected to their work or their company. “The only way for managers to combat that is to not be separate — to know your employee as a human being, to understand their unique skills, to understand their unique goals.”

Bravetta Hassell is a Chief Learning Officer associate editor. Comment below or email editor@CLOmedia.com.

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