Wouldn’t that logically be more important? Managers drive the ship because executives, well, they need to fret about revenue and build relationships. Rank-and-files/peons? Even though you hired them, which is an assumption of trust in their ability to do things, of course they can’t be trusted and that’s how we got micromanagement to scale. But in the middle are all these managers — way too many, per actual research on labor — and they kinda need to make the trains run in a business. Increasingly executives want software to do this, but the software isn’t good enough yet, and oh by the way, some of those peons would prefer to have human conversations in order to set context for the work they’re doing. Just a thought.
We talk breathlessly about employee engagement and employee experience, and we define those as categories, and we have software and plans and blog posts and white papers to address them. But what of the manager engagement levels? What of manager experience?
Management really isn’t a great experience for most people; managers report more stress and burnout, worse work-life balance, and worse physical well-being than the individual contributors on the teams they lead. Approximately two-thirds of managers are either not engaged or actively disengaged in their work and workplace. Less than 30% of managers strongly agree that someone at work encourages their development. According to the people receiving manager development training, the programs in place don’t work.
The first elephant in the room
Most managers are not trained on how to be managers, even though being a manager is a much different job than being an employee.
Here comes the second elephant
Once they are managers, typically they are expected to spend more time in their email and in meetings and calls, even though the word “manager” comes from the idea that they have direct reports now … but actually interacting with those direct reports often becomes their fifth or sixth priority.
And now, a trifecta elephant
Many people do not want to be managers. They know it’s largely logistics and bullshit. But it’s the only way in most organizations to make more money. So if you have two kids and a mortgage along the way, well, you’re probably going to try and set yourself up for management, unless you have a back-up plan to go own a plumbing business or start whittling beautiful wooden rocking chairs. Most of the middle management ranks at places I’ve been are people like this: They had no desire to ever manage, but life priorities got them to a place where it was the only option for them in terms of the money they needed to make. Plus, promotions feel good.
What would “manager engagement” look like?
I’m not fully sure how to metricize all this, but I’d say:
- How often do they interact with direct reports?
- What time do they show up?
- What time do they leave?
- What percentage of days are they WFH?
- What percentage of their time is in meetings?
- What are their scores on employee surveys?
- What are they reporting up the chain?
- What do their direct reports say about them?
I know some of the middle ones are bullshit seat time metrics, but … disengaged managers (I’ve had many) commonly show up late, leave early (“gotta get the kids!”) and WFH all the time. Since most managerial work in white-collar is honestly calls/meetings and you can take a call/meeting while watching Special Victims Unit if you’re not the main speaker/idea person, we all know managerial WFH is a massive joke. (Not always, but often.)
What would “manager experience” look like?
- Are they being heard up the chain?
- How much time are they spending on task work?
- How much time in meetings?
- How much time in their emails?
- What could make their lives easier?
- Where are their bottlenecks for talking to employees and contextualizing the work?
- What processes do they own that could be adjusted?
- How do they rate being a manager there on a 1–10, monthly?
Again, just basic questions to consider about your managerial ranks. It’s always funny to me that if one or two employees pop off with bad survey scores, some executive will think it’s code red chaos, but an employee hating their job for a week or two doesn’t mean anything in the bigger picture. Revenue will still be there, and you’ll either fire that employee or they’ll leave of their own accord. But a manager hating their job? Now you’ve got all the workers under them also disengaged, so two tiers are affected — not just one. But managerial pipe-ups are usually treated with “Don’t worry Nate, you’re a boss here. We’ve got your back.” (Hint, Nate: they do not always have your back.)
How would we improve managerial experience?
- Give the back-of-house work (payroll, compliance, discipline reporting) to software
- Set policies keeping managers off emails and off meetings unless absolutely necessary
- Check in with them more about their day-to-day experiences
- Listen to them, as often they feel like meaningless cogs in the middle of the whole ecosystem (which admittedly they are, often)
- Incentivize them beyond simply money/bonuses; those incentives often encourage the wrong type of thinking in managers
Obviously the elephant in the room here is that work is primarily about relevance, and things like meetings and emails are a sign of relevance … managers will not give those up because they matter to the perception of said manager. It’s all a complex psychological game around control at some level, but hey, there are ideas above if you want them!