Employee experience can make or break an organization. But while countless companies recognize the importance of employee experience, many aren’t looking at the full picture when creating their strategies.
“So often when talking about employee experience, companies zoom right in on their front lines: the individual contributors,” said organizational and culture consultant Daniel Juday. “This isn’t wrong; it’s just incomplete.”
It’s incomplete because it doesn’t factor managers into the equation. Since they directly oversee other employees and teams, managers play an integral role in employee experience. But all too often, they’re left out of not only crafting the employee experience strategy, but of being prioritized or even considered as team members whom that strategy will ultimately impact.
But the truth is, “managers are employees, too — with all the layers, nuances, and complexities that make work and life complicated,” said Juday. This means that including managers in employee experience should be nonnegotiable.
Below, we’ll take a closer look at why managers are so often excluded from employee experience, why it’s essential to include managers in your employee experience strategy, and how you can prioritize the employee experience of your managers — and see your teams and organization thrive as a result.
Why Managers Are Left Out of Employee Experience — and Why That’s a Problem
One of the reasons managers tend to be overlooked during conversations about employee experience is that they’re often siloed in a grey area between entry-level positions and higher levels of leadership.
“In many cases, managers exist in their own bubbles,” Juday noted. “They’re no longer individual contributors and aren’t necessarily included in those conversations, relationships, and interactions. And they’re not often invited into higher-level leadership meetings, as their roles are more about accountability than strategy. So they’re left floating in the liminal space between these two camps.”
Managers might also be overlooked because, in certain ways, they’ve already shown that they’re invested in the company. Leadership may not feel like they need to work as hard to keep managers happy and engaged with their jobs, and instead, will put their focus on creating a positive employee experience for team members they consider at a higher risk of leaving the organization.
“Top leadership isn’t necessarily trying to woo and win managers who have been there for a long time, and who generally do a fine job,” said Juday. “In some sense, [managers] get ‘checked out on.’”
But not prioritizing managers’ employee experience is a big mistake. Not only does it put a company at risk of losing its best managers, but if managers have a negative experience at work, it can trickle down to the rest of their teams, causing retention issues across the board.
If you want your employees and organization to thrive, you need to prioritize employee experience for managers. Here’s how to do it.
4 Key Steps for Including Managers in Employee Experience
1. Include managers in developing employee experience strategy.
There are few people within an organization who have deeper relationships or more frequent contact with employees than managers. “Managers have more ‘employee touches’ than anyone else in the organization — from team meetings, to one-on-ones, coaching, accountability, check-ins, and more,” Juday pointed out.
Managers also have more frequent contact with company leadership, which puts them in a unique position: “Managers are pivotal within any organization because they are the key bridge between the experience of front-line employees and the vision and direction of senior leadership,” said Farzana Nayani, a business and strategy coach specializing in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) and author of the soon-to-be-released book The Power of Employee Resource Groups: How People Create Authentic Change.
Not only is it important to think about including managers in employee experience strategy, but because they have such a high level of involvement with both team members and leadership, if you want to create the best employee experience across the board, you need to involve managers in developing that strategy, too.
“Managers should be included in any employee experience strategy because they can communicate the needs of employees to leadership through ongoing and immediate feedback, which can in turn shape policies and frameworks that can support the overall employee experience,” Nayani said.
Including managers in developing employee experience strategy will help create a more positive experience for team members across the entire organization, and will also give managers a sense of ownership in shaping the company’s culture — which can lead to a more positive employee experience for them as well.
2. Give managers a clear path for growth.
Many companies focus on developing their individual contributors into managers. But once employees reach the management level, organizations often feel like their work is done. However, in order for managers to be fully engaged at work, they need to feel like they have a clear path for growth. If you want to improve employee experience for managers, give them that growth path.
“Leadership development is a lifetime learning journey,” said Lauralee Hites, CEO of Indiana-based organizational consultancy Stratavize Consulting. “Top-performing organizations continue to invest in…[managers’] development.”
Sit down with your managers and have a discussion about their career goals. Then, develop a plan to help them achieve those goals — and provide them with whatever support they need along the way, whether that’s acting as a mentor as they take on more direct reports, or investing in a training course that will enable them to develop new skills.
When you show your managers that you’re invested in their professional growth, it will make them feel more seen, appreciated, and supported at work — all of which will contribute to improving their employee experience.
3. Treat your managers as individuals.
When it comes to improving managers’ employee experience, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. To improve your managers’ experience at work, you need to treat each manager as an individual, and identify what would improve their particular employee experience.
For example, say you have two managers — a brand-new manager who’s just started overseeing their first direct report, and a more seasoned manager who’s overseeing 10 direct reports and three big projects. Both of these individuals hold the title of manager, but improving their employee experience is going to require a different approach in each case. The new manager may need support or training to learn how to balance their time between managing their new employee and tending to their other responsibilities, while the more seasoned manager may need leadership to step in and reassign some of their work in order to help them avoid overwhelm and burnout.
Managers may hold similar titles, but regardless of their title, they are individuals with unique experiences and needs. In order to create a better employee experience for your managers, you need to take an individual approach.
4. Check in regularly.
Because managers hold a more senior role in the company, you may think they don’t need as much support as more junior-level employees. But in reality, managers often need just as much — if not more — support as they navigate their work responsibilities.
“Managers are often under pressure, needing to achieve deliverables along with the constraints of resources such as time and personnel,” said Nayani. “As such, they are often caught in the middle, needing to navigate the needs of employees [and] that of the company overall. In this effort to serve many stakeholder groups, managers’ needs themselves often go unmet.”
This makes it crucial to frequently check in with your managers. Start by scheduling regular one-on-ones with them. Ask how things are going and listen, with compassion and empathy, to what they have to say. If they’re dealing with any frustrations or challenges, let them know that you’re committed to helping them find a solution, and then work to get them whatever support, guidance, or resources they need to move through their difficulties at work.
For instance, say you check in with a manager who recently returned from parental leave and is struggling to balance their responsibilities as a manager with those as a new parent. In this situation, you could validate how challenging it is to balance work and parenthood, and then offer to work with them to help them find the right balance, whether that means adjusting their work hours or temporarily shifting some of their responsibilities off their plate until they find their footing.
You can’t know how to improve your managers’ employee experience if you don’t know what’s going on with them or what kind of support they need, so make sure to check in with your managers regularly.
Managers are often overlooked in conversations about employee experience, but if you want all your employees to thrive, prioritizing employee experience for managers is a must. These strategies will help ensure that your managers have a positive experience at work — one that will then influence their direct reports and, as a result, positively impact your entire organization.