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Managers Can Find the Greatest Opportunities for Growth Focusing on These Employees

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*Originally Published by Fast Company

With the constant fear of layoffs and a global rolling recession, you might think that right now is the worst time to motivate your teams. But what if it’s the perfect time to do so? As we’re seeing in workplace trends like The Big Stay, employees are hitting a pause on job seeking and are staying in their roles even though they feel ‘meh’ about their work. According to a recent Gallup report, this group of employees can account for up to 59% of the global workforce. As these quiet quitters are sticking around, now serves as a prime pitstop to flex the strengths of your managers and refuel your workplace with new energy. 

Why managers? In an interview on the future of work, CEO of Microsoft, Satya Nadella, asserted that the organization needed to put money towards prioritizing management capability, saying, “It’s good old-fashioned, good management practices that we need, in order for people to have their well-being taken care of.” Managers aren’t just the tendons that hold your organization together; they’re your vital organs too. If you want the company to stay alive for a chance to thrive in these volatile times, they need actionable mental and emotional support for their well-being from senior leadership. 

Compared to pre-pandemic times, your managers could be wearing 10x more hats right now, and they’re feeling the brunt of workplace needs (let alone their own). It’s like they’re rushing to put out the next fire without wearing any protective gear themselves. If your managers aren’t charging their own batteries or paying attention to their own whole being, their teams will feel the trickle-down of stress, burnout, and disconnection. 

Back in 2021, a McKinsey survey found that the top statements that people resonated with as to why they quit their jobs were 1) I don’t feel cared for by my organization, and 2) I don’t feel cared for by my manager. For your teams to succeed, there needs to be guidance from their leaders on how managers should be nurturing their teams (and some accountability to go with it). Too many are trying to do too much in too little time when the essence of their job is to manage and lead people. But it’s during these times of major shifts that make it the best time to be agile and test new practices.

Here are three ways you can help flex your managers’ skills so they can turn around and nurture their teams:

1. Survey managers on what would help them stay engaged in their roles and in their teams, then have them ask the same from their direct reports.

Share top results and make a plan for what you have the power to change/affect as a leader. If you need buy-in and budget from higher-ups, leverage the survey data your company is already collecting and start benchmarking the difference your changes are making. By opening up these conversations, you can get some new ideas from your managers on what to test first. Reassure the C-team with a timebox and measurement so you can track and adapt to the changes that are making a difference. To get more future buy-in, start small and show results from just one or two teams with managers with whom you already have a great rapport. 

2. Create a space of psychological safety. 

The #1 aspect of effective teams comes from having psychological safety (Google, 2016). Setting an expectation to have comfortable, honest communication with your managers gives them “permission” to do the same with their teams. Once managers have psychological safety embedded into their interactions with leadership, they can extend it to everyone on their team. As their leader, you can start by being more approachable beyond scheduled check-ins. When you take enough time to look your managers in the eye when you’re asking how they’re doing (and really listen), it gives them an example to model for their own teams. 

3. Check in with managers on how often they’re checking in with themselves and their teams, and practice it yourself. 

Revisit the way you’re goal-setting with managers and how you’re measuring their progress as team leaders. Being a leader isn’t just about the team hitting the sales number or customer survey metric; it’s also about how well the team is managed and sustained for the long term. Think creatively and specifically about what less turnover, less burnout, and more consistent performance mean for the people in your teams today versus pre-pandemic. Add questions that speak to their mental and physical health; it can be as simple as, “Are you OK?” In 1:1s, ask how you can support them like having a dedicated “check-in” and team focus week every quarter (where schedules get blocked off and other meetings get rescheduled). Trust your managers for their insight to experiment, and in the months following, get a pulse on how things are going for them and their teams.

Even though we’re still living in a climate of uncertainty, you’d be surprised how small actions lead to a big impact when it comes to those feeling the brunt of burnout. When senior leaders pave the way for managers to show up with better well-being and a deeper understanding of how to lead their teams, your workplace will lose the 'meh' and be in lockstep with how you need to grow.