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4 Ways HR Teams Can Partner With Managers

October 8, 2020
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HR and management haven’t always seen eye to eye. Sure, both may be focused on building the best team, but they often approach that with different skill sets, perspectives, and goals. Yet studies show that managers play an essential role in employee engagement, making them key to company morale — and critical to HR success.

In a year that has pulled the rug out from under the traditional workplace — mass layoffs, new stresses around work-life balance, and the normalization of remote work — Lattice’s newly released State of People Strategy Report 2020 shows that managers are playing a crucial role in helping HR reach their goals. Whether they’re building company communication or maintaining morale, managers have become front-line workers in the push for employee engagement and the key to their teams’ mental health. And HR is leveraging that by nurturing managers to help them build the skills they need to grow in those critical roles.

Based on a survey of 570 HR and People professionals from companies across industries and around the world, the State of People Strategy Report shows how HR is creating new partnerships with managers to navigate the current work environment and prepare their teams for the “new normal” that’s ahead. Consider four ways you can do the same.

1. Make remote work “work.”

With the spread of COVID-19 and the resulting rise of social distancing and shelter-in-place orders, the workplace has changed dramatically this year. At the organizations surveyed, 100% of employees work from home — up from just 10% before the pandemic. And those changes aren’t all temporary, either: 42% plan to adjust their remote work policy to give employees the option to work remotely even once the pandemic has passed.

And while that new work environment has definite benefits — from reduced commuting times for employees to larger hiring pools for the organizations they work for — it also provides a new set of concerns. The boundaries between work and home have blurred more than ever before, adding to emotional exhaustion and affecting employee morale — survey respondents listed both among their top challenges.

How Managers Can Help

Whether they’re struggling with childcare, dealing with feelings of isolation, or finding themselves more productive than ever, every employee deals with the realities of remote work differently and has their own unique set of challenges (if any at all). To understand if or where they might be struggling, direct engagement is vital — but most HR teams don’t have that kind of bandwidth. Partnering with managers can give you the eyes and ears you need to see how teams are doing and which employees might need extra help.

2. Provide a touchpoint for mental health.

While remote work can bring its own set of stressors, those aren’t the only worries employees are dealing with this year. The pandemic itself has brought new realities, from health concerns to heightened anxiety over potential job loss to the practicalities of childcare during school and daycare closures.

It’s no surprise, then, that of those organizations that listed emotional exhaustion as an issue, 62% named poor mental health as a contributor. Employees feel the effects of this new reality, and it’s up to HR teams to help them through.

How Managers Can Help

To make sure you’re doing everything you can to support your employees, you need to be able to touch base regularly. Again, partnering with managers expands your ability to do just that, while ensuring you don’t burn yourself out. But some managers may not have the emotional intelligence to handle complex mental health issues — the right learning and development can help them build the skills they need.

3. Build the best performance review.

Without the same opportunity for informal meet-ups, formalized communication methods become even more critical in a remote work environment. Survey results show that 89% of organizations have some kind of performance review process in place. As always, managers play a critical role here: reviews that solicit manager-only feedback are still amongst the most popular in use.

But with the pandemic negatively affecting employees in uniquely different ways, some experts suggest that organizations may want to revisit their goals during this year’s review process — considering how performance may have been impacted. Managers, with their direct engagement, can be critical partners in identifying those needs.

How Managers Can Help

Working with managers during the performance review process can help you get a better view of employees’ mindsets. In doing so, you’ll be able to identify the goals and strategy that will best support your company during this time — all while staying empathetic to the unprecedented challenges your workers face.

4. Create a culture of communication.

To keep communication channels open, performance reviews aren’t enough — direct, ongoing communication is just as critical. And organizations recognize this: manager one-on-ones, manager feedback, and team meetings were all listed by survey respondents as among their most important employee actions this year. In fact, survey results show that most organizations are already drawing on one-on-one conversations with managers to monitor their employee culture and stay on top of company morale in the new remote working environment.

How Managers Can Help

By introducing these forms of ongoing communication, managers can help you keep a pulse on employee morale and ensure you don’t lose visibility into drops in engagement or rising mental health needs within your team. The result will be a culture of continual communication that encourages employees to share — even when they’re not all working in the same office space.

Giving Managers a Boost

While HR may be counting on managers to help them build employee culture, it’s also important to acknowledge that many may not be equipped for these new roles. Research shows that managers are often uncomfortable communicating with employees, and many may not know how best to adapt to the changes underway. It’s up to you and your team to help them build the skills they need.

And with 46% of survey respondents naming manager enablement and training as one of their most important initiatives in the year ahead, organizations are clearly making this a priority. By planning learning and development initiatives like manager behavioral foundations, leadership training, and coaching services, HR empowers managers to excel in the current climate and face everything that it brings.

In doing so, the importance of the HR-manager partnership is rising and benefiting organizational culture as a whole. 

How else have HR’s challenges, priorities, and initiatives shifted in the 2020 landscape? Find out by downloading the
full report.