From P&C Specialist

Managers have a major impact on employee engagement but to be successful, they need to know how to communicate, how to provide clear guidance about job responsibilities and how to navigate a challenging hybrid work environment.

If insurance companies find that their top talent is quitting, they may need to take a closer look at their managers and the training they receive.

“People leave bad managers,” said Katy Tynan, vice president and principal analyst at the research and advisory company Forrester.

Managers have a huge impact on employee engagement, and in companies where engagement is low, turnover and absenteeism increase, while productivity and employee well-being decline, according to a May poll by Gallup.

“Managers either make an organization succeed, or they make it fall behind. And they either inspire their employees to higher performance or turn them into enemies of the organization,” Gallup wrote in an article

“Across the board, organizations underinvest in manager development,” Tynan said. “We are not giving managers enough tools and resources … to be successful.”

Jim Harter, chief scientist for workplace management and well-being at Gallup, agrees that managers need more training to learn how to effectively engage employees, harness their strengths and manage their performance.

That’s because it’s crucial for managers to have meaningful conversations with employees to help set clear expectations about work, help them feel connected to the mission of the company and provide opportunities for them to learn new skills, while also holding them accountable for the work they produce, Harter said.

Workplaces get poor marks

About half of employees surveyed by Gallup strongly agreed that they knew what was expected of them at work and 40% had the materials and equipment they needed to do their job right.

Roughly one-third of employees said their companies gave them the opportunity to do what they do best; they had someone to encourage their career development; and someone talked to them about their progress, according to Gallup.

And less than 45% felt like their supervisor or someone else cared about them while just 20% have a best friend at work, Gallup found.

Bryan Hancock, a partner at McKinsey and co-author of the recently released book “Power to the Middle: Why Managers Hold the Keys to the Future of Work,” said managers need to help team members have a clear understanding of their work, and “how it links to the bigger picture.”

That requires good communication skills, both to convey what is expected and to make it personal and relevant to the employee, Hancock said.

Part of being a good communicator is checking in regularly with employees to see how they are progressing with their work but avoiding being a micromanager, he added.

It’s up to managers to “make sure work gets done in a way that really empowers members of the team,” he said.

They also need to help create connections among their team members, as well as between their team and other teams. Research has shown that during the Covid-19 pandemic, connections among team members increased, but they decreased across teams, Hancock said.

The pandemic also underscored the need for managers to care about the “whole human,” he said. That might mean understanding when an employee needs to take time away from their desk to care for an elderly parent, take a pet to a veterinarian or pick up children from school.

And if an employee is having a mental health challenge, the manager needs to be able to listen and then help connect them with the right resources, Hancock explained.

Ultimately, organizations need to remember that “managers have incredible influence over the day-to-day quality of life of their teams,” he said, adding that going forward, organizations should “start to think about selecting managers who have natural aptitude in these areas.”

Hybrid challenges

Managers’ communications skills have become particularly critical in today’s world of hybrid working.

When everyone is working in the office, managers can walk around and check on employees, see what they are working on and celebrate victories, said Steve Ingalls, president and CEO of Catalyzer, a leadership development and training company.

“That is challenged if we’re not face to face,” he said.

Instead, it’s imperative that managers call remote employees for regular check-in sessions, Ingalls said. Without that, employees will “leave your business because they haven’t been touched.”

Managers also need to work to establish trust between team members who are working in different locations, Ingalls says.

When workers are in the same location, they can see their colleagues working and getting results. “People sitting next to each other trust just by proximity,” but now managers need to “provide opportunities for hybrid workers to interact and build relationships,” Ingalls said.

That can come through organizing events such as potlucks and parties. When remote and hybrid workers come into the office for such activities they are often “pleasantly surprised and energized by these things,” he said.

Building relationships and trust can help employees feel good about their future with the company. Indeed, providing opportunities for career development for all employees, regardless of whether they are working in the office or remotely, is crucial.

Forrester’s Tynan said that exit interviews have found that the lack of opportunities for career development “is almost always at the top of the list for why people leave organizations.”

Training is key

Training managers is critical if they are expected to effectively manage today’s hybrid workforce.

That includes learning such skills as how to run a hybrid meeting so everyone is included, and it means organizations must provide the right technology to foster collaboration, Tynan said.

Companies can develop in-house leadership development programs or bring in outside consultants. But any program must “be grounded in the culture and values of the organization,” Tynan said.

Forrester has found that 65% of companies spend less than $2,500 per manager per year on leadership development skills, according to Tynan, with most of that spent on senior executives, rather than frontline leaders. She said companies should spend more than that and programs should include lower-level managers.

“Every dollar you spend you can see value in,” she said, as management and leadership development “is a journey, not a workshop.”

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