Line management under pressure in lockdown and return to work transition


New research* from performance management software specialists Appraisd shows that line managers are struggling to spend the same amount of dedicated time with their direct reports as they did before lockdown began. Employees report that the amount of 1-2-1 time with their line manager has dropped dramatically over the past few weeks. 48% of employees who responded to the survey said they were having fewer 1-2-1s and almost four in ten (38%) said the frequency had dropped significantly. Only 17% of employees said the frequency of their 1-2-1s had increased at all since they had been working from home.

Employees were also asked if their line manager was checking in regularly with them to see how they were coping with the current situation. While 44% said their line manager was in touch frequently with them, 27% said their manager was not in regular contact. One of five respondents strongly disagreed with the statement, indicating that they felt their line manager was failing to provide the support they would expect.

Employees lacking support when they need it the most

These figures show that a large proportion of the UK workforce is not receiving the usual guidance, mentoring and coaching that they were previously enjoying, at a time when they need it the most. These are unprecedented times, with many employees working remotely for the first time alongside juggling other responsibilities and dealing with increased anxiety. This is a time when they need their line managers more not less.

Those employees who are lacking their usual support from the line manager are unlikely to be able to perform to their full potential while working from home. This lack of dedicated attention could also mean issues around their wellbeing and mental health may not be picked up as the line manager is not able to spot the early warning signs if they are struggling.

Line managers struggling to cope

These results could also be an indication the enormous pressure that line managers are currently under and how many are struggling to carry out day-to-day tasks alongside their managerial responsibilities. Many have no previous experience of managing a remote workforce, and potentially lack the skills and tools to be able to do so effectively.

On top of this, they are probably also struggling to come to terms with their own new working situation. Many are likely to have children at home or other responsibilities to contend with. Added to this they are having to revise plans for 2020 and adjust objectives to reflect the current business environment. They are likely to be under huge pressure to get an enormous amount done and one of the elements suffering appears to be their direct management duties.

Generation Z lack support and direction

Integrating the results by age group reveals it is Generation Z that has seen the biggest reduction of time with their line manager. The youngest employees in the workforce, those aged 18 to 24, are having the least amount of dedicated time. Only 12% are having more frequent 1-2-1s, while over half, 53%, are having fewer. 43% state they are having significantly less time with their line managers than before. This is in stark contrast to older employees. 21% of those aged 55 to 64 are having 1-2-1s more often than before lockdown.

Almost a quarter of Generation Z employees also strongly disagreed with statement that their line manager was in touch frequently to check to see how they were coping. It is the youngest, most junior members of the workforce who have little previous experience to fall back on that are missing time with their line managers the most.

Successful remote working requires more than being tech-savvy

At the start of the lockdown, it was assumed by many that older non-digital native employees would struggle more to adapt to remote working and getting to grips with telecommunications. This may explain the results of the survey which show older employees are getting more time with their line managers. However, new research has shown that it is younger workers who are finding it hardest to cope[1]. 85% of Generation Z said they feel less connected with their teams and 89% reported difficulties working from home.

Working successfully away from the office is a skill that needs to be learnt. Just being comfortable with the tools needed to communicate is not enough. It requires self-confidence, sound judgement and resilience, things that are more likely to come through experience. Line managers need to take heed of these findings and ensure their younger employees are getting the support and guidance they need to work as productively as possible.

Founder of Appraisd, Roly Walter said “Most employees are adapting to a completely new way of working, away from their office and their colleagues. Many of their previously goals that they were working towards may now be irrelevant, which can be very unsettling. On top of this they are also having to deal with the additional anxiety and stress caused by Covid-19. Currently, 1-2-1s with line managers are even more important than ever to provide focus, guidance, and support. These figures are concerning and show that line managers may be lacking the tools they need to reach out effectively to their direct reports.

To address this situation and ensure all employees are getting the support they need, employers need to make regular 1-2-1s a priority. Creating a simple check list to give line managers a structure will make these conversations easier and provide a consistent approach across the organisation. These conversations don’t have to be time-consuming, just a few minutes to check on what employees are working on, how they are coping and if they need any help can be invaluable. In our experience, carrying these out via video calls helps to improve the quality of the conversation and establishes a closer connection between line managers and their employees.”

*Survey conducted through Google Survey with 1,044 UK employees, May 2020.



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