Many employees ride the struggle bus these days. But one group in particular is on it most often. Front-line managers face more challenges than ever.
Fortunately, HR can help them overcome the biggest issues. Then managers can thrive – and be equipped to help their employees succeed.
“The relationship between manager effectiveness and employee engagement is undeniable,” Dr. Natalie Baumgartner, Chief Workforce Scientist at Achievers, said in their Manager Empowerment Report. “Simply put, the more effective a manager is, the more engaged their team is likely to be.”
Here are the most pressing challenges today – and how HR and senior management can help front-line leaders.
Managers lack support
Only about a third of front-line managers were trained to support their employees, according to Achievers report.
They don’t exactly lead blindly. But many stepped into management because they were good employees. They know how to work well, but they didn’t get guidance on how to help others work well.
“Good managers become so through insight, development and support – essentially, empowerment,” Baumgartner said. “Conversely, bad managers are often actually just under-supported, under-developed, and under-engaged, themselves. Thus, it’s imperative that every organization empowers their front-line people leaders, their managers, with regular, consistent, cross-functional training.”
You’ll want to start or increase soft-skill training for managers, especially when they’re brand new to leadership. You might get leaders in your organization who are known to engage and motivate their direct reports to share best practices in these areas:
- holding one-on-one meetings
- recognizing employees
- showing empathy, and
- managing to strengths.
You can set guidelines for these kinds of management practices, but they’re still mostly soft skills – and real-life knowledge and experience will help most.
Managers don’t feel the love
Just about 20% of managers say someone regularly recognizes them and makes them feel valued, the Achievers study found.
HR and company leaders often expect front-line managers to praise and reward employees. But then they overlook the fact that managers are employees – and need to feel some love, too.
You want to – and probably do – give front-line managers incentives to perform well and lead a successful team. But perks aren’t usually enough.
Managers’ bosses – department heads, VPs, unit leads, etc. – will want to channel their days as front-line leaders. Regularly give praise that’s:
- specific. Point out the action or behavior that made an impact
- timely. Recognize the specific work as quickly after it happens as possible
- public. Share it, assuming the manager is comfortable with that, and
- values-based. Tie the praise-worthy work to a positive impact on the company, people, purpose and/or greater good.
Managers aren’t trained enough
The good news: 77% of senior leaders agree front-line managers are vital to their company’s success, a Harvard Business Review study found. The bad news: Just 12% of those senior leaders feel their company invests enough time, money and resources to equip front-line managers.
Why the disparity? The Harvard researchers felt it had little to do with lack of concern or resources. Top leaders really do believe – and want to invest – in front-line managers. However, the C-level often focuses on profitability – especially in the face of a pandemic – and don’t focus on longer-term talent development.
So, how can you help managers face this challenge? Give them the time and encouragement to pursue leadership and job-specific training. When you – or front-line managers’ bosses – sit down with them for one-on-ones or performance reviews, schedule time quarterly for professional development. And make completing it part of their job expectations.
Managers don’t have the right staff
Despite improved unemployment reports and robust hiring plans, many front-line managers feel a staff crunch. What’s up with that?
Their challenge tends to be having the right people, or the right number of people, working toward the common goal, according the Harvard study.
Managers need more than task-doers to fill roles. They need problem-solvers. Without problem-solvers, managers have to oversee performance too much. That gives them less time to engage workers, develop themselves and practice some self-care.
HR can help by creating easier ways for front-line managers to find talent within your company based on skills, education, personality and strengths. Work with them to align job roles with the ideal candidate types. Even better, this can help employees identify positions that fit what they’re looking for, too.
Managers face fear (not just theirs)
Front-line managers have some fears of their own. But in most cases, they also hear about employees’ fears day-in, day-out.
In the wake of COVID-19, employees are worried about job security, safety and health. They want answers from their managers. And, naturally, their managers feel pressure to help.
The best way HR can help front-line managers deal with these fears is with communication. Give them:
- Honest and transparent information on business changes, including the potential for layoffs or furloughs
- Details on changes that will affect personnel and processes
- Weekly information on return-to-work plans and/or on-site safety and health guidelines
- Regular updates on training, reskilling and career opportunities, and
- Opportunities to solicit and give employee feedback that’s heard and responded to by senior management.
Managers struggle to juggle change
Many people, when they hit middle-age, call themselves the “Sandwich Generation,” managing their parents’ care and their children’s lives.
In the workplace, front-line managers are the “Sandwich Generation.” They need to execute and relay what comes down from senior leaders. And they need to manage employees and relay up the chain what’s going on at their level.
Changing priorities make that middle-person job even more difficult. The pandemic certainly changes plans. And many managers feel like they’ve bore the brunt of executing on the fly.
You can help ease their pain with a plan to:
- Send critical messages – especially related to health and safety – directly and digitally to the workforce so they know what to do without immediately checking in with their bosses.
- Create a portal where important messages are posted and automatically sent to employees. Give employees 24-hour access to HR forms, schedules, department and company information, policies and processes.
- Build a platform where employees can share best practices and reliable information so they can help each other.