How to Improve the Manager-Employee Relationship

How to Improve the Manager-Employee Relationship

How to Improve the Manager-Employee Relationship

Published on March 24, 2022

Connection at work is critical, but it can also feel intangible. Organizations have a hard time defining it, measuring it, and creating it—especially in today’s hybrid work world. But employees crave it, and they’re quitting to find it.

The manager and employee relationship is a particularly important source of employee connection, but new Blueboard research shows that most organizations are struggling to help employees connect authentically with their leaders. 

Thankfully, where there’s a gap, there’s an opportunity. 

First: What do we mean by “employee connection”?

“Employee connection” or “workplace connection” can feel really ambiguous—and your People leaders do not have time to try to solve an unclear problem. So, we began our research and this conversation by creating a holistic definition of connection at work that spans four distinct dimensions.

Employee connection means:

  • Employees feel connected to the company's mission, values, and leadership vision
  • Employees feel connected to their coworkers and managers through authentic relationships
  • Employees feel connected to the work they’re doing and understand its impact on company goals
  • Employees feel that the work they’re doing is connected to their personal values and aspirations

One watchout our panelists flagged right away: Workplace connection isn’t about warm, fuzzy, “we’re-a-family” feelings. In fact, this rhetoric can be really toxic. Instead, connection at work is about how your organization shows up for your people across these four dimensions. It’s about the supports, processes, benefits, and cultural norms that your organization prioritizes. 

It’s this way of showing up that drives employees’ sense of belonging, psychological safety, and engagement levels. And, as a result, critical business outcomes like retention and productivity. Which begs the question: 

What do these best practices, supports, and structures look like when it comes to strengthening the manager and employee relationship?

How can you help managers strengthen their relationship with employees?

Just 38% of employees say their company effectively enables them to build authentic relationships with their manager. This should be a particularly motivating finding for organizational leaders because the manager-employee relationship is one of the more powerful dynamics in the workplace. 

According to research from Gallup, managers account for at least 70% of the variance in employee engagement scores. That means this particular relationship has a majorly outsized impact on overall employee engagement. 

Yet, many organizations struggle to get the right people into managerial roles and to set their managers up for success, leading to a stark manager-employee disconnect. And this disconnect has only worsened during the pandemic, with more and more individuals starting new jobs without ever meeting their manager in person. 

“This is such a unique circumstance for most people, and they're struggling to figure out how to address it,” says Lynda. “That’s why a lot of the conversations that I have with managers these days [as a coach] is helping them work through different ways of thinking about leadership.”

Thankfully, there are clear ways organizational and HR leaders can empower managers to connect with their direct reports.

1. Acknowledge that your managers are juggling a lot of priorities.

Organizations ask a lot of our managers. We expect them to be empaths and problem solvers, leaders and mentors, communicators and mediators, all while juggling their day-to-day work. In short, there’s generally way too much on their plates—and this affects how well they can connect with employees. 

2. Fix the system before you try to fix the manager.

If your managers are having a hard time connecting with employees, zoom out and look at the system of support (or lack thereof) before you zoom in to look at them as an individual.

Many organizations are not providing enough clarity around a manager’s role, responsibilities, and power, nor are they providing systems of support, resources, and training to help managers grow as managers.

3. Create shared spaces for managers.

A great way to support your managers is to create a space for them to connect with other managers across departments and teams. To come together with their peers. This gives them an opportunity to ask questions and air out their struggles with others who share similar experiences.

4. Drive manager-employee connection with meaningful recognition.

Our research on connection showed that meaningful employee recognition is an incredibly effective tool you can use to strengthen employee connection. 

A manager-driven recognition program, in particular, is powerful because it shows employees that their hard work is seen and valued by the person whose opinion they care about the most.  

Also, remember the four dimensions of connection we mentioned earlier? If you want to help employees connect to their own values and aspirations on a deeper level, experiential rewards are the way to go. Experiences are people-focused, have great “story value”, and help shape a person’s identity—all of which leads to greater employee fulfillment and feelings of connectedness . 

Original Article: How to improve the manager-employee relationship 

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