We have all seen social media posts where people claim they are not “leaving a bad job, but a bad manager.” Leaving a bad manager has become commonplace, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, with employees citing their managers as a key reason why they are parting ways with a former employer … but is that the whole truth?

The pandemic initiated a fundamental shift in the workforce, upending the routine and norms we had all grown accustomed to. Many saw their roles and responsibilities shifting in the workplace. Managers’ roles expanded greatly, both in terms of their own workload and new expectations from employees on the support expected from their leader, while still navigating the turbulence of the pandemic. They were forced to adapt to a perpetually evolving work environment, often with little instruction or support, and mostly in a remote setting.

In 2021, a Gartner study revealed that 68% of human resources (HR) leaders reported that their managers were overwhelmed by the responsibilities of today’s hybrid work model, whereas only 14% of those companies had put programs in place to help manage the workload. Echoing this sentiment, in 2022 Gartner also reported that in the evolving role of management, only 47% of managers felt they were prepared for their future roles. There is a whole new array of leadership capabilities expected of managers, and with competing pressures, many organizations have struggled to proactively help their leaders evolve. Managers account for 70% of the variance in employee engagement, both positively and negatively, so hyper-investing in their success is one of the biggest actions you can take to drive engagement and retention.

So, it begs the question, is there really such a thing as a bad manager? Or do we have managers that are compressed, ill equipped, overwhelmed, underprepared and burnt out themselves? No one wakes up every day and decides that they want to be a bad manager. Many just do not know how to do it any better.

How COVID-19 Changed the Manager’s Role

The pandemic brought a host of challenges and obstacles for organizations, managers, and employees. From pivoting teams to remote work, helping employees navigate COVID-19, to ensuring individuals have an opportunity to excel professionally amidst unprecedented change; hence, the needs of and support for managers has gone unnoticed.

Conversely, employees evolving expectations of their company, and subsequently, their managers, has led to increased pressure and constraints of circumstance — developing a perception of uncaring, unskilled managers and burned out employees, which is a basis of The Great Resignation.

Faced with these new realities and outdated workplace practices, many employees and managers alike are experiencing a decline in inclusion, fatigue and burnout from their prep-pandemic levels, thus impacting performance and talent outcomes. According to a Gartner HR research report, “while employees report difficulty disconnecting from work, feeling overwhelmed by caretaking responsibilities and suffering from virtual fatigue…nearly 69% of HR leaders have reported that managers have less visibility into employee work patterns,” making it more difficult to support and assist their teams.

The Role of the Modern Manager

Historically, the role of a manager was largely based on their ability to manage, maintain productivity and evaluate employee performance. Now that things have shifted to a primarily virtual setting, managers need to find new ways to connect with employees, while still maintaining productivity and supporting their employees’ careers. According to another Gartner study, by 2024, new technologies have the potential to replace many of the tasks traditionally done by managers, such as assigning work and nudging productivity. In this new era of work, the role of a manager is less focused on the long-established monitoring of employees, and more focused on understanding processes and offering the right support and tools for their employees to grow in their careers.

Recently, we have seen that many companies are making a shift to address the concerns of their employees by expanding the support and resources offered to address mental health, stress and child care; inevitably companies are realizing that work and personal lives are inextricably linked. As a result, managers have had to become more emotionally adept, recognizing that an employee’s at-home and personal life plays a fundamental role in their work success.

Now What?

In the recent years, even prior to the pandemic, it had become increasingly clear that empathetic leaders were more successful, but normalizing this as a valued, and expected leader attribute accelerated in the pandemic. Today, empathy is a highly sought-after character trait for leaders.

In this post-pandemic era, “human” needs to be the overarching theme at work. It is the responsibility of the organization to address this gap and thoroughly train and support their people, but it also takes awareness from people managers that employees respond better to empathy. In addition, organizations need to recognize the pressure being placed on managers to meet the demands of the evolving work environment.

Managers need new ways to lead people in the way they want to be led.  And what can organizations do to support them in that?  Here are a few ideas:

  • They need new skills: Learning to support all facets of wellness, supporting people’s careers through coaching (e.g., Standard Chartered Bank coaching programs for all leadership), identify and respond to team burnout, support performance, have emotional intelligence and how to hire are all based on skills, not experience. Organizations need to make training courses available on these topics for all new and existing managers.
  • They need new tools: Managers need tools that can empower them in multiple facets of business, including (but not limited to) creating strategies and planning for turbulent times, hosting impactful team events and off sites, leading global workshops, creating flexible work environments and designing work that leverages a direct report’s strengths.
  • They need more support: Managers need learning and upskilling resources provided by central L&D teams to accelerate the growth of their teams, more time for them to manage their workload, and faster ways to fill open roles in their teams.

In essence, to build a strong organization, people need to be at the center. By giving our leaders the same empathy, resources, and skill sets that they are expected to give their teams, there will not be any “bad” managers. Everyone deserves the chance to become a great manager.

Everyone deserves the chance to become a great manager.

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