Managers struggling with workload in new era of work

managers are also facing increasing expectations and a greater workload from the organisation, including new responsibilities brought on by hybrid workMore than three-quarters of employees report that it has become more important for them to receive support from their manager, according to Gartner. Simultaneously, managers are also facing increasing expectations and a greater workload from the organisation, including new responsibilities brought on by hybrid working. A December 2022 Gartner survey of more than 6,000 individual contributors and managers claimed that managers are twice as likely to report an increase in responsibilities versus individual contributors, compared to before the pandemic. For example, 35 percent of managers say they have more direct reports and 49 percent report that the complexity of their responsibilities has increased.

“In response, most organisations are trying to drive manager effectiveness by investing more in development programs to increase skills proficiency,” said Swagatam Basu, senior director in the Gartner HR practice. “Unfortunately, a March 2023 survey of 98 HR leaders found only 25 percent feel confident their investments in manager development are working.”

Gartner research reveals that focusing on job manageability – ensuring that managers view their role as focused, executable and sustainable – is five times more effective than skills proficiency in improving manager effectiveness. Employees reporting to effective managers are 15.4 times more likely to be high performers and 3.2 times more likely to stay with their employer; they also have 12.5 percent higher physical and mental well-being.

Gartner claims that organisations can implement four things to improve job manageability:


Reset role expectations

“The average manager now has 51 percent more responsibilities than they can effectively manage,” said Brent Cassell, vice president in the Gartner HR practice. “Organisations must redesign the manager role to focus on the activities that have the greatest impact on manager effectiveness.”

Leading organisations are shifting the manager role by:

  • Empowering managers to connect employees with others for coaching and development.
  • Rescoping the role to focus on high-value tasks that managers are uniquely positioned to execute.


Rebuild the manager pipeline

Most organisations evaluate potential managerial candidates based on their performance as individual contributors (IC); 79 percent of HR leaders say that a candidate’s past performance in an IC role is a very important consideration for promotion to a first-time people manager role.

“Past performance in an IC role is not a foolproof predictor of future performance as a manager,” noted Cassell. “In addition, pushing high performing individual contributors into management by default can lead to employees who aren’t interested in management becoming managers.”

Progressive organisations are letting potential managers self-discover their fit for the role by allowing them to:

  • Understand their own strengths and development areas.
  • Participate in “manager simulation programs” before taking the job.
  • Choose to opt out of the management training program and remain in an individual contributor role without a loss in pay or respect.


Rewire manager habits

Despite growing investment in manager development, Gartner analysis found that focusing on manager skills proficiency only boosts manager effectiveness by 4 percent. Rather than building skills, organisations need to help their managers build long-term habits, which will ultimately drive more effective managerial behaviours.

Building habits saves managers time and energy, which they can then redirect toward making other critical decisions. Managers are also uniquely positioned to help their direct reports and other managers adopt the same desired habits and behaviours.


Remove process hurdles

The presence of process hurdles – things like dated onboarding processes and complex budget approvals processes – increases levels of manager fatigue by up to 42 percent.

“Managers are 1.4 times more likely to find their jobs manageable when their organisations take steps to minimize process hurdles that take managers’ attention away from their core people management responsibilities,” said Basu.

Image: Sisyphus by Titian. On display in the Prado Museum, Madrid. Public domain.