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Steven Buck


Head of People Science, EMEA

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Leadership development: what makes an inspiring manager during a pandemic?

New research uncovers what makes an inspiring manager during a pandemic.

At a time when the role of the manager has arguably never been more challenging, Glint’s recent research shines a light on how managers are doing on a number of important metrics, including employee engagement and burnout, as well as how their jobs are changing, their biggest obstacles and the most impactful ways CEOs can help managers succeed.

Challenges are steep for today’s managers, but on an optimistic note, it also shows that many have converted hardship into an opportunity to learn and grow. 

Our study combines research from 3.4 million employee engagement surveys on the Glint People Success platform with LinkedIn behavioural and survey data, supported by expert perspectives from industry leaders, HR executives, and people scientists. The report details six key findings, which we will outline here.

The transformational power of managers

Why are managers – people who oversee the work of others – such a powerful part of an organisation’s success? In a best-case scenario, managers and employees don’t simply respond to what’s happening in their organisation, they work together to bring out the best in one another. It’s this ongoing collaboration that contributes to their organisation’s purpose and business results.

Our research shows that employees that recommend their managers are 2.3 times more likely to be engaged, twice as likely to stay with the organisation and 2.3 times more likely to have clarity about their company’s strategy. Successful managers go hand in hand with engaged employees, who invest their cognitive, emotional, and behavioural energies toward positive outcomes. A recent study by Eric Garton and Michael Mankins determined an employee who is engaged is 45% more productive than one who is merely satisfied. Another study found organisations that believe their employees are both strong performers and highly engaged see 65% higher profitability compared to their peers.

There’s one more dimension to a manager’s impact that deserves attention. The long, difficult months of the pandemic have made it abundantly clear that people have complicated lives beyond their work identities. Managers are in the best position to understand how their team members are doing, and what they need to support their wellbeing and do their best work.

Everyone’s more engaged

Despite the challenges of the pandemic, employee engagement among managers rose 5% in the past year; in fact, employee engagement rose across all roles and levels in 2020. What’s driving this? The report presents three likely factors:

  • Purpose: many managers took on a new sense of purpose this past year as they provided a critical link between their organisations and their teams during challenging times.
  • Support: people felt supported by their organisations when senior leaders took measures to keep them healthy, safe, focused, and well-informed amid drastic changes in their work environments.
  • Gratitude: during previous economic downturns, people have felt grateful to keep the jobs they have. This is likely to repeat for these tough times.

There is, however, good reason to keep an eye on managers’ wellbeing. Between Q1 and Q4 of 2020, manager burnout increased 78%. The number who watched the course Managing Stress for Positive Change grew seven times from 2019 to 2020.

Indeed, stress and burnout have been very real threats to all employees’ wellbeing. For managers, ‘heavy workload’ was the most frequently cited woe associated with burnout, but there’s also likely an under-reported factor: the prevalence of illness and loss that has touched so many people.

“There’s emotional burnout,” Harvard Business School professor Linda A. Hill says in response to the data. “There’s a whole lot of coping with traumatic experiences”.

New priorities in the new world of work

Given the challenges we’ve been living and working through, it’s no surprise the research shows that wellbeing stands out as a top priority. To build organisational resilience and make transformation possible, organisations must first give whole-hearted support to help managers achieve their own balance and wellbeing. In turn, supported managers can pay attention to four critical areas for their teams:

  • Wellbeing: 92% of employees said it was very or extremely important to have work conditions that keep them safe and healthy.
  • Belonging: 94% of employees said it was very or extremely important for their manager to help team members feel that they belong.
  • Remote and hybrid teams: 94% of employees were interested in an ongoing ability to work remotely at least some of the time.
  • Learning and growth: 91% of employees said it was very or extremely important for their manager to encourage learning and experimentation.

Covid-19 exacerbated conditions that hinder managers

It’s clear how important managers are, yet many spend their time sprinting between competing responsibilities. They act as team captain and coach while keeping in touch with HR and staying on top of communications, as well as getting their regular work done. The pandemic added a storm of new tasks and decisions for almost every manager, amplifying challenges that aren’t entirely new such as collaboration overload (the constant deluge of meetings, chats, and emails).

Innovation is making it easier for organisations to support managers at scale  

While managers face tough challenges, the good news is that technology is making it easier to support managers, particularly these three developments:

Tapping into motivation and support helps managers achieve their full potential  

Finally, we learned that when it comes to manager motivation, two factors rise to the top: doing work staff feels match their skills (41%) and feeling trusted to make work-related decisions (35%). Both factors support autonomy, defined as a person’s ability to act on their values and interests, which in turn can be tied to an organisation’s larger purpose.

What does all this signify for managers as we enter the second year of the global health crisis? The data shows that challenges are steep for today’s managers, but on an optimistic note, it also shows that many have converted hardship into an opportunity to learn and grow. The number of managers using LinkedIn Learning grew by 102% from 2019 to 2020, with a 49% increase in learning hours per manager, which underlines how managers see embracing learning and growth opportunities as helping the people they manage, and their wider organisations.

Interested in this topic? Read Coronavirus: the role of the unexpected remote manager.

Author Profile Picture
Steven Buck

Head of People Science, EMEA

Read more from Steven Buck

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