When it comes to how we view leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic, perhaps Publilius Syrus, writer of famously pithy maxims in the time of the Roman Empire, said it best: “Anyone can hold the helm when the sea is calm.”
But recently, organisations globally have found themselves in choppy waters. Overnight, many of us were forced to step into the roles of teachers, carers, and cooks — all alongside performing our roles as employees. The sea is far from calm.
The cost of these extra burdens has been high on everyone — but on managers, leading their teams through COVID-19, it’s been even higher. Throughout the pandemic, managers have been expected to keep their teams motivated, supported and productive to do their best work, all the while doing the same for themselves.
We analysed over 15,000 manager responses to find out how managers have been coping throughout the pandemic — and the answer is they’re not.
64% of managers feel that their productivity is misunderstood
We released a COVID-19 question set on the Peakon platform to support our community and the wellbeing of their employees. Developed by our Organisational Development Science team, this question set measures employee perception on factors including their organisation’s communication, prioritisation of their safety, and understanding during the pandemic.
One of these questions measures the extent to which employees feel that their organisation understands how the pandemic is negatively impacting their productivity:
[Company] understands how the COVID-19 pandemic may affect my productivity.
Globally, 64% of managers feel their organisation does not understand the toll that COVID-19 is taking on their productivity. By comparison, only 58% of employees feel the same way.
This disparity between the employee and manager experiences of the pandemic highlights that managers, as leaders on the frontline of the pandemic, are feeling unsupported and untrusted by their organisations to make work work for them. But in order to know what’s causing this, we need to take a deeper look at manager comments.
Managers are feeling the pressure of longer hours and heavier workloads
When we analysed the top 20 topics discussed by managers on this question, the second-highest ranking term referenced was hour, revealing an imbalance between the amount of work they feel expected to complete, and the reality of doing so in the current working environment.
The appearance of terms like pressure and workload paint a more complete picture — managers are feeling overburdened.
Managers also use language such as demand, deadline and challenge, suggesting that their working situation is becoming stressful, while the use of the word children serves as a reminder that managers, just like the members of their teams, are doing their best in extraordinary circumstances.
Why you must act now to support your managers — during COVID-19 and beyond
The passage of the past few months has fundamentally reframed how we understand work — and what it means to be productive while working apart.
Yet managers globally do not feel that their organisation understands how the pandemic has impacted their productivity. Caught between the needs of team members, senior management and their personal lives, they are feeling overburdened and undersupported.
But managers are the crucial link between your organisation and your people, and your people are your most critical drivers of success. Managers that don’t feel trusted, supported and psychologically safe will not be able to effectively support and lead your employees.
This is why, during this time and as we transition back to the office, organisations will need to provide additional support to their people leaders, and be compassionate to their personal and professional needs. Above all, organisations should focus less on hitting KPIs, and more on cultivating a culture of mutual trust and autonomy that supports managers to support their teams.
With these two key elements in place, managers will be empowered to motivate, support and inspire their own teams, fostering innovation, creativity and productivity.