Topics:   Leadership

Topics:   Leadership

October 19, 2021

The Great Resignation and the Employee-Manager Disconnect

October 19, 2021

With 55 percent of people in the workforce reporting their intent to find a new job within a year, according to an August survey, there’s no doubt that we are in the middle of the Great Resignation. Poor management is one of the causes.

There are several aspects of the manager-subordinate relationship that both parties see the same way. But there are also some clear and important disconnects.

Let me explain.

Over the last 10 years as a practicing organizational psychologist with an active research program, I have asked employees worldwide what they most want from their managers. Two of the most important things employees want are for their manager to show support and understanding and for them to provide recognition. As part of my active research program, I surveyed a representative sample of 10,000 workers in the United States. Twenty-five percent of respondents said support and understanding are what they want most from their manager, while 13 percent indicated they most want recognition (tying for third in the ranking).

Before going further, though, let’s define what we mean by “support,” “understanding,” and “recognition.”

The survey revealed that employees define “support” as being present and accessible, providing help in daily activities, being encouraging, standing up for employees, and following through on employee issues and concerns. “Understanding” refers first and foremost to listening, but also to being considerate and friendly, paying attention to employees’ needs and difficulties, showing empathy, and developing healthy overall relationships with workers.

Likewise, employees define “recognition” as complimenting and praising good work, giving employees credit for good ideas, and acknowledging employees for their loyalty to the job and the organization. According to employees, managers who are good at this personalize recognition to what an employee does well. They also recognize the passion, skills, and abilities of employees and their achievements.

So, how well do managers understand what employees most want from them?

As part of the research for my new book, The Employee-Centric Manager, I asked a sample of 1,000 corporate managers in the United States—representative of all major industry groups—to tell me in their own words what they believe is the most important thing employees want from them. Managers named support and understanding at a much lower frequency than employees did—only 16 percent, or second in the managers’ ranking. Astonishingly, only 1 percent of managers indicated that employees most want recognition—ranking dead last, in the ninth spot. 

The conclusion is obvious: managers underestimate, by a sizable degree, how important it is for them to support, understand, and recognize members of their teams. As presumably logical people, managers act based on the information they have. But by how much do they underperform when their information is faulty or their knowledge limited? And why does underperforming in supporting, understanding, and recognizing employees matter?

Here are some important facts.

Over the past few years, my active research program has collected ratings from over 15,000 employees on the extent to which their managers are employee-centric; this has included, for example, ratings of the degree to which managers show employees support and understanding and provide them with recognition. At the same time, I have also measured other important workplace variables. Here is what I have found:

  • Employees working for top-rated employee-centric managers have employee engagement index scores that are 28 percent higher than employees working for middle-rated managers and 485 percent higher than employees working for bottom-rated managers. (And, no, 485 percent is not a typo.)
  • Employees working for top-rated employee-centric managers achieve team chemistry index scores that are 32 percent higher than employees working for middle-rated managers and 241 percent higher than employees working for bottom-rated managers.
  • Employees working for top-rated employee-centric managers obtain team performance index scores that are 32 percent higher than employees working for middle-rated managers and 254 percent higher than employees working for bottom-rated managers.

From the stats above, we know the negative impact bottom-rated managers are having on team engagement, chemistry, and performance. But what impact are they having on measures such as employee absences, regrettable turnover, and counterproductive work behavior?

These matters should be of great interest to boards. Having a great pipeline of managerial talent is fundamental to any organization’s long-term success. Boards can play an important role by encouraging organizations to place a high priority on building greater people-management strength within their leadership ranks.

Specific actions that boards can support the executive team in accomplishing include:

  1. Creating awareness for managers regarding the extent to which they demonstrate employee-centric attributes through upward feedback systems.
  2. Helping managers build the skills and values needed to manage others effectively by providing well-designed managerial training and development programs.
  3. Shining the spotlight on managers at higher levels in the organization who model the attributes of an employee-centric manager.
  4. Recognizing and rewarding those who are—or who are well on the path to becoming—standout employee-centric managers.

Boards have a critical role to play in helping the managers within the organizations they oversee become more employee-centric. Managers need to understand what employees most want from them. It is the key to a better work experience, higher employee engagement, better interpersonal team chemistry, and outstanding team performance. And who doesn’t want to be on a winning team?

Dr. Jack Wiley is an award-winning organizational psychologist, researcher, author, and leadership consultant. He is the president and CEO of Jack Wiley Consulting and Employee Centricity. In addition to his business ventures, he’s the chief scientific officer at Engage2Excel where he educates top leadership teams on how their employees currently view their organizational leadership and employee experience, and the actions leaders must take to build higher performing organizations.


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