We all know it’s a tight talent market out there, but retention conversations often revolve around employees. HR pros and organizational leaders are pouring a lot of time and energy into keeping top performers engaged and on board.
That’s an important initiative, but it often overlooks the company’s managers — the very people responsible for keeping talented workers happy. As it turns out, organizations shouldn’t be taking their managers for granted: About half of them are ready to walk out the door.
That’s according to a new survey from cloud learning management system TalentLMS and Dr. Ashley Prisant, instructor of leadership, business, and human resources classes at Harvard Extension School, Harvard University.
The study, which looked at why managers leave their jobs, found a number of factors influence manager retention, including work/life balance, recognition, and — perhaps most importantly — workplace relationships.
The Plight of the Isolated Manager
The top factor in manager retention is a good relationship with direct reports. According to the survey, 61 percent of managers say the No. 1 reason they stay at a company is because they work well with the people they manage.
But these relationships, even at their strongest, may not be enough on their own to keep managers engaged. While managers are the go-to supports for their team members, managers can’t necessarily lean on their team members when they need support. Ideally managers should be able to turn to their own supervisors, but that’s not always the case. In fact, 7 percent of the managers surveyed by TalentLMS said they have no one to turn to at work when times are hard.
While 7 percent may not be a huge number, 73 percent of those managers with no one to rely on said they are thinking of leaving their companies within the next year. Moreover, the plight of the isolated manager hints at some structural weaknesses within typical organizational hierarchies.
Fifty-one percent of the isolated managers told TalentLMS they were happier before they became managers, and 62 percent said the isolation set in after they earned their promotions. That raises the question: Why does promotion sometimes leave managers feeling stressed and alone rather than confident and supported?
“As soon as you become a manager, you automatically take on the role of mentor, and you have to make sure that everyone is happy,” says Aris Apostolopoulos, a content writer at TalentLMS who reported the survey results. “In other words, you need to take care of people — which, to be honest, makes you feel like a valuable asset to your company. And you are!”
However, as Apostolopoulos notes, there’s a catch: “The more you advance, the less taken care of you feel.”
“In traditional corporations, managers are not considered accessible and approachable,” Apostolopoulos says. “If you think about it, most of the time, people share worries and troubles more with their peers than with their supervisors. So, when someone gets excluded from small everyday things like office chitchat and, at the same time, has to manage a much heavier workload, they automatically feel shut out.”
Does Anyone Really Care?
As some managers get cut off from the everyday office activities that use to constitute their workplace social lives, others feel like their companies are slowly losing interest in them.
TalentLMS’s survey uncovered a curious trend in how managers relate to their organizations: The more experienced a manager is, the more likely they are to leave.
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In terms of the data, 44 percent of managers who said their company cares more for them now that they are managers have less than three years of managerial experience. Meanwhile, 74 percent of the managers who feel less cared for now that they are managers have been managers for more than three years.
Paradoxically enough, it seems the more confident the company is in the manager, the less confident the manager is about their company.
“Here’s a logical flow that I believe makes complete sense: To be promoted to a manager essentially means that you’ve established yourself,” Apostolopoulos says. “If you’ve established yourself, you’ve most likely become less of a problem for your company’s upper management. And the less of a problem you become, the less your company has to deal with you.”
The more experienced you are, the less the company has to worry about you. The less the company has to worry about you, the less your superiors will feel the need to check up on you. On the flip side, newer managers are probably having more check-ins with their superiors to make sure things are going well.
“But as time goes by, this just drifts away,” Apostolopoulos notes. “Why? Because, again, they’ve become less of a problem.”
As supervisor attention drifts, so, too, do training opportunities. That makes matters worse: 92 percent of managers want training and development opportunities, and the lack of such opportunities is one of the top three factors driving manager turnover.
And yet, a quarter of managers say they get no management training at all.
“Companies spend a lot of time on mandatory compliance training, and sometimes training on skills is neglected,” Apostolopoulos says. “Why? Because of the high volume of work. Managers usually have a million tasks to complete, another three million tasks to delegate, and a bunch of crises to manage. So, spending time on training that has long been considered a luxury doesn’t sound that legitimate.”
You may simply be worried about putting out fires, but the decision to skimp on management training could be a primary factor behind your low management retention rates.
Managers Support Everyone Else — Employers Need to Support Their Managers, Too
“Managers are responsible for their teams’ happiness,” Apostolopoulos says. “As a matter of fact, 77 percent say they’re frequently on the receiving end of others’ emotions.”
It follows, then, that managers want to create environments in which their workers will be happy — and those same environments can also help managers feel happy, too. As support is crucial to employee engagement and retention, so too is it a vital factor in keeping managers on board and performing at their best.
How can companies help better support managers?
First, training is of the utmost importance. Apostolopoulos recognizes that a manager’s hectic schedule can be a barrier to training, but he says the solution isn’t to skip training — it’s to help managers manage their own workloads to make room for training.
“A simple trick would be to set fixed dates on which managers can get their training so they can design their monthly schedules ahead of time,” he recommends. “It’s all a matter of proper planning and productive collaboration between managers and upper management.”
To address the feelings of social isolation, it’s important that companies “set up team activities that would allow junior employees, senior staff members, managers — basically, anyone — to interact and communicate with each other no matter their position in the hierarchy,” Apostolopoulos recommends.
And, finally, organizational leaders need to remember to keep in touch with managers — even when everything is going swimmingly.
“Companies shouldn’t just handle problematic situations,” Apostolopoulos says. “Managers, even if they are exceptional performers, still need to feel like they report to someone who tracks their progress and values their efforts, exactly as if they were junior employees.”
Ultimately, as with most any employee engagement and retention effort, cutting manager turnover generally comes down to listening. As long as a company invites input from its managers and then acts on that input, it’s much more likely to retain its leaders far into the future.
“What this survey ultimately suggests is that managers will stay as long as they feel both valued and valuable,” Apostolopoulos says.