Today’s workplaces are testing managers: here’s how to support them

7 min read | Barney Ely | Article | Workforce Management

Today’s workplaces are testing managers: here’s how to support them

When does being a manager become unmanageable? While the role’s challenges have been building for some time, the increasing complexity of workplaces – coupled with on-going external pressures – means many managers are struggling.

Now more than ever though, managers are the medium that connects people, ideas and innovation in a business. It’s time to reevaluate how the role has evolved, and the ways managers can be better supported – for both business success and management wellbeing.

 

At a glance: the challenges of modern management

  • Handling employee expectations
  • Juggling diverse and complex workforces
  • Navigating artificial intelligence (AI) in the workplace

 

Understanding the challenges managers face:

Managers can often occupy a volatile middle ground – the intersection between ambitious leadership plans and constantly evolving employee expectations. 

To provide managers the support they need to drive employee morale and business growth, it’s important that leadership teams fully understand the realities of the role. Here are some of the most pressing challenges managers face:

  • Evolving employee expectations: Tapping into the up-and-coming generation of talent can be seen as key to business success – but early career cohorts also bring a sleugh of managerial conundrums. Whether it’s challenging the traditional 9-to-5 or questioning traditional career paths, managers are tasked with handling changing expectations, while still building a healthy rapport with their younger team members. And it’s not just young talent disregarding the status quo: workers across different generations are seeking greater autonomy, flexibility and career opportunities. 
  • Juggling complex workplaces: The diverse composition of today’s teams requires managers to be workplace diplomats, with conflict resolution identified by Gartner as the next must-have skill for managers in 2024. Multigenerational workforces bring varying outlooks and expectations, working patterns can differ between team members, and it’s not uncommon for departments to include a mix of contractors and temporary workers. Moreover, an uncertain economy and geopolitical environment only adds fuel to potential flashpoints, and it’s easy to see these tensions spilling into office settings.
  • Navigating AI: Today’s leaders are under pressure to leverage fast-moving technology that enhances their organisation’s decision-making and productivity – and managers are at the forefront of this demand. The prime example is emerging artificial intelligence (AI) tools that can automate certain tasks and processes. But with our latest Salary Guide data showing that 60% of employees don’t feel their organisation is helping them prepare for AI in the workplace, the burden often falls on managers to not only understand how the tech can augment their personal contributions, but also that of their team members. 

 

Managers are feeling the pressure – here’s how to support them

Managers are among the most stressed workers today. More than half of managers (53%) are reported to be burnt out, with increased responsibilities and a general lack of support pilling on the pressure. 

This should alarm leaders. With Gallup finding that managers are solely responsible for 70% of the variance in team engagement, their workplace influence can’t be overstated. However, research by McKinsey & Company has revealed that only one-in-five managers (20%) strongly agree their organisation helps them be successful people managers. Without the right support and direction, it’s not just managers’ wellbeing at risk, but the success of an organisation. 

Here are three ways to make management manageable:

1. Clearly defined responsibilities: Organisations often treat their managers as a sweeping solution, expected to do everything from moving the needle on DE&I to formulating future-proof data plans – all alongside their usual people management and administrative duties. As well as feeding the flames for burnout, saddling managers with too many tasks can dilute the effectiveness of their role. It’s therefore important to frame exactly what you want your managers to achieve – whether that be overseeing specific strategies or spending more time coaching staff.

2. Upskilling and development: It’s clear that managers need greater skills support to handle the increasing demands and complexities of their job. More nuanced workplaces require a greater investment in core skills – such as emotional intelligence and communication – and managers’ development in these areas shouldn’t be overlooked. Gartner recommends, organisations consider “dedicated conflict management training”, along with coaching and shadowing for new managers.

3. Greater wellbeing and benefits: Offering managers increased flexibility and benefits –
especially when personalised – can increase their sense of value and possibly mitigate burnout. This could be particularly pertinent for the latest generation: half of the UK’s millennial managers would want a pay increase if asked return to the office five days a week, according to a report by the Chartered Management Institute. Or, failing that, a free lunch. While demands like these may ruffle senior feathers, it’s evident that keeping overloaded managers engaged and effective will require greater recognition.

The role of a manager in 2024 will be more challenging, but also more rewarding than ever before. Organisations will need to empower their managers to adapt to the changing needs and expectations of their employees, make the most of emerging tech, and maintain a healthy work-life balance that trickles down to their team. In doing so, leaders will not only enhance the performance and wellbeing of one of their greatest human assets, but foster a positive culture that ripples across their organisation.
 

About this author

Barney Ely, Director - Human Resources, Hays UK&I

Barney joined Hays in 1993 as a business graduate and is now Director for Hays Human Resources. Barney also has operational responsibility for Hays offices across the South of England, placing professionals in over 20 industry sectors covering everything from accountancy and finance to construction, IT education and healthcare.

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