Caught in the Middle: Managers in the Wake of COVID-19

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Employee Benefit Trends

Caught in the Middle: Managers in the Wake of COVID-19

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While employers have made progress to support their workforce’s well-being, managerial stress remains high. With return-to-work plans set against an ongoing war for talent, leaders need to equip management with the right tools to build resilience, drive productivity, and keep talent.

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Over the past year, managers have supported their teams with a range of emotional difficulties, changing priorities, and a growing demand for more flexible work arrangements. As a result of these efforts, supportive managers have been influential in reducing workforce stress amid the pandemic’s many challenges of 2020 and beyond.

But while managers have done an excellent job alleviating their direct reports’ stress, they themselves remain highly stressed, feeling wedged in the middle of a transforming work culture. 

Given the critical role managers play in bolstering team morale, productivity, and loyalty, these managerial pressures jeopardize all the gains employers have made this past year. In this changing world of work, organizations should acknowledge the difficulties associated with modern-day management and better support their team leaders.

The World of Work Has Changed and Managers Are in the Middle

Nearly half of employees—and disproportionally women—have concerns about returning to the office after working remotely, and they expect flexibility beyond what many employers say they are willing to accommodate. With opposing tensions from employees and employers, managers are caught between these clashing dynamics.

As a result, even if you see positive scores in employee surveys, there may be hidden populations of people leaders who need extra support.

When you are working, how often do you feel the following?
37%37% Manager Stress
32%32% Non-Manager Stress
32%32% Manager Overwhelmed
26%26% Non-Manager Overwhelmed
33%33% Manager Burned out
30%30% Non-Manager Burned out
22%22% Manager Isolated/disconnected
21%21% Non-Manager Isolated/disconnected

Pressures on managers

Download the report to see how pressures on managers are mounting as employee demands and expectations shift.

Workplaces Need Supportive Managers Now More Than Ever

Managers are arguably the most influential figure in employee support networks: 

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However, when managers suffer from the pressures imposed upon their roles, it can negatively affect the business. While having a supportive manager drives positive changes in motivation and loyalty that reverberate throughout the workforce, not having a supportive manager leads to higher stress, burnout, and increased anxiety.

Quick-Start Tips: Empowering Managers to Succeed

Organizations that give managers the tools they need to adapt to this new environment—and in turn, support leaders’ well-being—stand to see the most success. In particular, managers need support in three areas: being able to spot and act on mental health warning signs, meeting the needs from reports of different backgrounds, and providing flexibility while achieving flexibility for themselves.

5 Things Employers Can Do:
  1. Provide specialized training around coaching, remote worker supervision, and mental health awareness for managers—and provide the bandwidth relief managers need to participate in trainings.
  2. Encourage and guide managers to navigate sensitive conversations about topics such as mental health and social justice.
  3. Build a culture of recognition, healthy work-life balance, and transparent pay/promotion.
  4. Prioritize benefits communication not just during open enrollment, but year-round.
  5. Check in with managers regularly to review capacity, resourcing, and well-being concerns. 
5 Things Managers Can Do:
  1. Offer forums to discuss diversity and inclusion.
  2. Maintain a cadence of frequent work and wellness check-ins.
  3. Find and champion opportunities for staff to have greater flexibility.
  4. Empower reports to make their own decisions and choices.
  5. Ensure teams know where and how to get help when needed.

How to empower managers

Get the insights on how to empower managers today.

In this new era, managers need greater recognition of their hard work, as well as specialized training and support to manage their changing roles—from guidance around benefits and flexibility to sensitive topics such as identifying and acting on mental health concerns.

Furthermore, making sure managers are not overlooked in well-being initiatives and that they have access to the workplace benefits they need will be essential to creating a culture that survives the current war for talent.

Explore our research and more in the full report.