Training and coaching for managers is the best intervention (most effective and cost effective) we can invest in to improve wellbeing and performance.
In 2021, the corporate wellness market was estimated to be worth £2.4bn in the UK and growing nearly 5 percent year on year. According to Deloitte, 60 percent of employees, 64 percent of managers, and 75 percent of the C-suite (in the UK, US, Canada & Australia) say they’re seriously considering quitting for a job that would better support their wellbeing.
Even now, many companies are feeling the pinch of the changed economic climate since the pandemic. Often benefits programmes can be seen as a bit of a luxury when the bottom line is threatened. But what if there was a way to increase BOTH employee wellbeing and make the company more profitable?
Burnout is on the rise
Employee wellbeing and reducing burnout have become increasingly important issues since the pandemic. Countless hours and column inches have been dedicated to trying to find the “solution” to improving employee wellbeing, and still, some estimates say that 40 – 65 percent of UK employees have experienced burnout in the past year.
While most of us have now accepted that traditional wellbeing initiatives and perks like mindfulness app subscriptions or free yoga classes have a limited impact (if any at all), there remains no real consensus on how to marry the needs of employees and the bottom line of most organisations’ profits.
In this article I propose that there is no conflict between increasing your organisation’s efficiency and your employees wellbeing – and that one investment will dramatically improve them both: Improve your management and leadership capability because more profitable companies have happier staff.
People are promoted for the wrong reasons
Most of the people in leadership and management positions are unqualified and possibly even unsuited to the role.
They have been promoted based on:
- Their performance as individual contributors
- Time at the company
- Need to give them a pay rise
Imagine that you went to see a doctor because you were suffering from a stomach ache. They give you some advice and you go away to implement it. A few months later, you’re not feeling better, even though you’ve done everything they said, so you go back.
You explain to the doctor that you’ve been doing everything they said, but your stomach still hurts, you’ve gained weight, and now you’re also getting headaches.
“I don’t think this treatment is working,” you say.
“That’s odd,” the doctor replies. “I’ve always done it this way before, because a guru I follow online suggested it.”
“Wait!” you say. “This isn’t medicine you learnt about at med school?”
“Oh no!” The doctor laughs. “I never went to med school. I got promoted to doctor because I was a great receptionist.”
You’d be looking to sue for malpractice, I’m sure.
But – that’s EXACTLY the way most organisations approach management and leadership. They promote people to manager because they’re good at their current job, and while managers are not dispensing life or death advice like medical doctors, poor leadership and low wellbeing at work DO have health consequences like increased stress.
Few managers receive leadership training
According to CMI, 82 percent of entry level managers in the UK have had no formal management training at all, and this remains at an alarming 26 percent of even senior managers according to a survey by Digits. Like the excellent receptionist who got promoted to doctor, it is therefore hardly surprising that many managers struggle to be effective.
This leads to lower employee wellbeing because leaders are not creating positive workplace cultures – not because they don’t want to, but because they don’t know how and what they think will help usually doesn’t.
Studies have shown that poor management affects employee wellbeing, satisfaction and performance. In fact, having a good manager is the single most important factor in whether or not your employees are happy in their jobs and want to stay.
For people who don’t have a good manager, as many as a third are actively looking to leave their current jobs.
Untrained managers misunderstand their role
Most managers think that their role is to make sure that people in their team are getting work done, and that they are doing it as well as the manager would do it themselves. They strive to be up to date and across every detail of the projects their team is running.
This isn’t their fault – if they have never received training or guidance to understand the role of a manager and how to lead effectively, then it’s not reasonable to expect them to get it right alone. They were probably also managed by someone who had had little or no training themselves!
But, studies have shown that micromanagement decreases employee motivation. Employees often experience supervision as micromanagement because they feel that they are being checked up on. It feels like a lack of trust and autonomy.
Lack of autonomy over your work increases stress, and this in turn is directly correlated with higher risk of serious health conditions, and in some cases even early death.
Ironically, most managers and leaders behave this way because they believe that they are taking care of their team by showing interest, which they think will improve employee wellbeing – whereas they are often having the opposite effect.
Making good managers
The solution is two fold, and solving it will increase the organisation’s efficiency as well as making employees happier, healthier and more likely to stay.
We need to promote people based on their leadership talent and interest in being managers, and then we need to train, mentor and coach managers to lead well.
Leadership & management are career paths with distinct skillsets
In most companies, there is a ceiling beyond which you can’t progress without being a manager. That means that people who are great technically HAVE to start leading teams if they want to gain higher status and higher paid roles.
But the traits and skills which make a great software engineer, for example, are not necessarily the ones that make a great manager.
Management should be recognised as a career path in its own right, which would mean that people can opt in because they genuinely want to lead.
Employers would then also be able to select people into management careers who show traits correlated with leadership success – such as a willingness to make tough decisions, comfort with uncertainty and change, high levels of empathy and a talent for persuasion (to name a few).
Training your managers and leaders
Managers and leaders need to know how to lead. That means knowing how to:
- Set effective goals and aims for their team
- Create a culture and environment to support people to achieve those goals
- Trust their team members to come to them when they need extra support
Breaking that down even further, there are key skills for managers which individual contributors will not need to have demonstrated before, and which don’t always come naturally even for people with natural leadership skills and ambitions.
The key factors which increase employee wellbeing – because they create feelings of trust, autonomy and belonging, which are most correlated with wellbeing – are:
- Setting achievable but challenging (and therefore motivating) goals
- Holding people to account and giving useful, actionable feedback
- Understanding how much to supervise (hint: don’t!)
- Empowering people (and when to step in to help solve problems) without them feeling abandoned
- Recognising success, effort and failure in the team without demotivating people (“Employees who feel they get the right amount of recognition are four times more likely to be engaged at work.” Gallup 2023)
- Creating a supportive and inclusive culture because when people feel connected to something larger than themselves they perform better
The added value of coaching
Ongoing coaching for managers has been shown to be one of the most effective investments in wellbeing and performance, and increases the effectiveness of training significantly. This is particularly true for people who find other forms of training and learning environments less suited to their style and skills; and where behaviours, attitudes and ways of thinking need to shift for the manager to be better at supporting their own, and their employees’ wellbeing.
Another showed that if you are looking to promote wellbeing of managers and employees, then hiring an external coach is more valuable than using coaching within the business because of the external perspective, added confidentiality and the freedom the coachee feels to set the agenda.
ROI for leadership coaching varies depending on how you calculate it, but some estimates put it at 500-700 percent.
Surely that is worth investing in?
Charlotte Rooney is a Women's Leadership Coach, Mentor and Founder of A Half Managed Mind. She helps middle managers stop firefighting and start leading strategically so that they can be empowering, impactful & respected leaders by teaching them how to leverage their team, their strengths and their influence to get things done without being "overbearing", "unlikeable" or resorting to doing it all themselves.