In our age of hyper uncertainty, a new survey has found evidence of a concerning disconnect between employers and employees, which could potentially be holding back individual career progression as well as business productivity.
As the cost-of-living crisis continues to bite, more than a quarter (28%) of UK workers wish their managers understood more about their financial challenges, while a similar proportion (26%) wish their managers understood more about the impact of work on their mental health.
The findings have been released by Right Management as part of the ManpowerGroup UK Hiring Forces and Employers Survey, which brings together the views of 2,030 UK-wide employers and 1,000 UK-based employees.
“We’re seeing from this survey, as well as anecdotally, that a significant number of employees are expecting empathy or support from their employers, without necessarily communicating what it is they need”, said Sarah Hernon, Principal Consultant at Right Management.
The survey found that around a quarter of hiring managers (26%) say that hybrid workers are less likely to be considered for a promotion, while more than a third (38%) say that remote workers are less likely to spend any time with senior managers.
“Together, these findings suggest there are several opportunities being missed, whether that’s opportunities for employees to be open and honest about the challenges they face inside and outside of work, or employers to ensure that remote workers are being considered fairly and not only in the context of flexibility.
“As ever, communication is key but the trend appears to be with employees who are not speaking up. The consequence is that managers might be unaware of some of the pressures their teams are under, while workers – and especially those who are working remotely – may be missing out. It seems that some are losing the art of conversation, which could be a result of the longer-term impact of hybrid working.”
Hernon says that the survey shows why businesses need to adequately train leaders to manage expectations in a stretched market that is battling to retain talented employees. The key, she suggests, is for both parties to be congnisant of any blurred lines and to agree the limitations.
She explains, “Talking about issues such as finance and mental health in the workplace requires quite a courageous step. Employees should feel supported to bring these issues to the table while managers have to be effectively skilled at being able to offer support in a way that’s honest, realistic, and individually tailored to an employee’s needs. What managers must avoid is taking on any of their employees’ burdens.”
But as Health Assured, the UK and Ireland’s largest employee assistance plan (EAP) provider, has seen a 26% increase in the number of urgent calls over the last three years, businesses have to find ways to ensure leaders and managers are prompting and encouraging productive conversations around challenging issues.
Hernon adds, “The art of conversation is one every leader should master. Managers need to have effective conversations with their people to understand their circumstances better. For example, a higher proportion of the remote workforce are women, often due to parental responsibilities – should they miss out on the opportunity for promotion because of this? Absolutely not.”
“Our recent research for International Women’s Day found that 80% of women want more work life balance, with most saying that being able to work at a time that works for them is most important. Another 80% of women also wish their manager better understood them – from their workload to the challenges of being a parent while balancing a career. Opening up conversations is the way to begin addressing these issues.”
To ensure Hernon’s advice can be implemented, Right Management suggests three steps:
Businesses need to encourage managers to engage with their employees and build a positive working relationship. Doing so builds two-way trust, which is integral to a positive workplace culture.
Hernon says, “Leaders need to get to know their team and understand their motivations and aspirations. Showing genuine interest facilitates better, personalised management, which can enable employees to open up about contributing factors that may be impacting on their performance.”
Be honest and open-minded
When an employee trusts their manager and vice versa, they’re more likely to feel comfortable enough to reveal personal issues and the manager is better placed to give valuable support – whether that’s showing empathy, signposting assistance, or having a tough conversation if necessary.
“A good manager is unlikely to be able to completely transform an employee’s personal circumstances, but they can be honest and clear in articulating what they and the business are equipped to help with” adds Hernon.
With the need for trust and empathy underlined, managers would do well to remember that alongside employee well-being, the best interests of the organisation also have to remain a priority.
“Although it can be exceptionally challenging in the context of someone who is struggling, sometimes you have to be objective and look at the bigger picture. The best leaders are those who balance purpose, people and performance. They’re all intertwined and though it’s a difficult balancing act sometimes, it’s important to not let one overshadow the other. If you notice that happening, that’s where you need to draw the line.”
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