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Line Managers can make or break EX - So what can we do about it?

Line manager capability is the number one challenge for employee experience. Take a look at the crucial role of line managers in shaping EX, and learn practical strategies to help them make a difference.
Emma Bridger

6 Oct 2023
Employee Engagement
Employee Experience
Line Managers

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Line managers can make or break your employee experience. Line managers are a key enabler of employee engagement. We all know this is a fundamental truth but just in case you need more convincing research from the likes of Gallup, Garnet and IBM back this up:

For example:
  • Millennials say that "quality of manager" is a top factor they consider when looking for a new job.
  • When managers play an active role in onboarding, employees are 2.5 times more likely to strongly agree their onboarding was exceptional.
  • Managers account for an astounding 70% of the variance in their team's engagement.
  • Only two in 10 employees strongly agree that their performance is managed in a way that motivates them to do outstanding work.
  • Fifty-two percent of exiting employees say that their manager could have done something to prevent them from leaving their job. Nevertheless, only 51% of employees who left their job had a conversation about their engagement, development or future during the three months leading up to their departure.

But the experience of many leaders is currently not in a good place.

Research from OC Tanner (2023) found that leaders are 43% more likely to say work is interfering with their ability to be happy in other areas of their lives. In the same report they state that burnout among mid-level managers in particular, is getting worse.

It’s fair to say that anyone with line management responsibility has had to do more with less over recent years, given the impact of leading hybrid teams, quiet quitting, supporting employee wellbeing and more. This is backed up by the research from OC Tanner, who found that 61% of leaders report having more general responsibilities at work since before the pandemic, versus 34% of individual contributors who say the same.  

In addition research from Gartner (2022) found that 35% of managers say they have more direct reports and 49% report that the complexity of their responsibilities has increased since before the pandemic. While at the same time, the same research from Gartner reveals that over three quarters of employees say that it has become more important for them to receive support from their manager.

It is not a surprise that we are witnessing increasing burnout from these who have line manager responsibilities – and managers reporting that they are overwhelmed (Gartner 2022) is hardly a surprise given this backdrop.

It was interesting therefore to see that building line manager capability was cited as a key priority in our recent EX Report research (you can catch up on the webinar and download the slides here).

Line manager capability was also cited as the single biggest challenge to EX, clearly there’s work to be done. When delving deeper in what is going on with line managers, the research found that from the perspective of practitioners:

So where do we go from here?
First and foremost we need to set managers up for success. We need to help them understand their role, motivate and inspire them to want to improve EX, help them develop their capability and then make it easy for them to do the right thing.

Often organisations overlook the fact that their leaders are employees first, leaders and managers second. We have to focus on getting their experience right, to help them ensure their teams have a great EX. Firstly by intentionally designing compelling experiences for them (and with them), and secondly by ensuring they are set up for success to support a compelling EX with their teams. Don’t assume your leaders will automatically know how to facilitate a compelling EX with their teams, support may be required.

We know what great leadership and management looks like. There are huge bodies of research and numerous books on the subject. Gallup are leading experts in the subject and share some useful guidance on how we can support our leaders on creating a compelling EX with their teams:

  • Choose your leaders and managers carefully, obvious but critical. So many people find themselves promoted to the role of manager or leader because they are technical experts, rather than because the requisite skills to lead and manage others.
  • Give your leaders and managers the right support. In their research, Gallup found that leadership development programmes are not translating into managers feeling fully prepared for, and inspired about their future.
  • Practice empathy by taking time to understand how it feels for leaders and managers in your organisation. Gallup’s paper, The Manager Experience: Top challenges and Perks of Managers is a great resource, sharing evidence from a study of more than 50,000 managers. However there is no substitute for taking the time to listen to managers and leaders within your own organisation. Gallup suggest designing learning programmes that are continual, multimode and experiential.
  • Take steps to ensure your brand, purpose and culture are experienced at every stage of your employee life-cycle. This advice is relevant for all employees not just leaders and managers. But we can’t expect them to bring the organisation purpose brand and culture to life for their teams if they are not experiencing it themselves.   

And you can also check out our ‘Developing Engaging Line Managers’ tool as well – based on the CIPD ‘managing for sustainable employee engagement’ framework.

But we want to do a whole lot more to help you set your managers up for success.
Over the coming weeks and months we are going to:

  • Explore the role of the manager in EX – what is we need them to do and why?
  • Start to understand the skills and strengths required by line managers to develop their capability without further adding to their workload and stress
  • Develop tools to help you, as practitioners, to set your line managers up for success.   

This is going to involve sharing a range of resources with you, from webinars, toolkits and diagnostics, to blogs and insights from companies who are getting this right. 

So watch this space for more support on this topic coming your way. In the meantime we’d love to know your views on the role of line managers and EX.

What resources are you looking for? What would you like to learn more about? And if you’re already doing great work in this space, let us know so we can share your story and celebrate your progress.

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