5 daily habits of the best managers

Show trust and accountability in your day-to-day interactions

A 2014 Gallup study found that 70% of variance in employee engagement has to do with manager satisfaction—and that a staggering 70% of people in managerial roles are not well suited for the job. 

The Harvard Business Review's Ryan Fuller and Nina Shikaloff analyzed these results alongside data from Microsoft's Workplace Analytics to pinpoint trends among managers of highly engaged employees.

Fuller and Shikaloff identified five general qualities of good managers:

  • Create trust;
  • Avoid politics;
  • Focus on strengths; and
  • Instill accountability.

But these traits are vague and difficult to identify in an individual, so Fuller and Shikaloff highlight five tangible, day-to-day habits of good managers:

1. Set similar expectations for themselves and their employees

Fuller and Shikaloff calculated a "utilization score" for each manager and employee based on their average weekly work time. Predictably, the managers who worked the most hours tended to have employees who put in extra hours, too.   

However, those employees were also 5% more engaged than their less-utilized colleagues and 2% to 4% more engaged than their colleagues who worked for less-utilized managers.

Fuller and Shikaloff say the findings suggest that employees are most engaged when their manager works similar hours to them.

2. Assign equal amounts of work to each employee

Fuller and Shikaloff used the same utilization data to identify disengagement among employees that put in more work hours than their colleagues. Employees that work 120% longer than their colleagues are 33% more likely to be disengaged at work, and twice as likely to view their managers unfavorably.

"It is a core function of a manager to allocate work across their team," write Fuller and Shikaloff. "This finding clearly shows that uneven allocation leads to disengaged employees."

3. Build relationships across the organization

The researchers also compared the number of people in a manager's network with their employees' engagement levels.

The most well-connected managers have 5% more engaged employees, Fuller and Shikaloff found. Those employees also tend to have much broader networks than the employees of less-connected managers.

However, employees with networks twice the size of their managers' are 50% more likely to report disengagement and twice as likely to view their managers unfavorably.

"Employees rely upon their manager to provide a coordination role with other teams across the company," Fuller and Shikaloff write, suggesting that "employees who already have larger networks than their manager may simply see little value in the relationship and feel unnecessarily constrained by the hierarchy."

4. Regularly meet with employees face-to-face

There's no such thing as too much face time, according to Fuller and Shikaloff's analysis. Employees who spend twice as much time with their managers than their peers are 67% less likely to be disengaged at work.

But employees who rarely see their managers or receive insufficient training are four times more likely to be disengaged at work and twice as likely to view their managers unfavorably.

5. Be a better employee

Employees reporting to disengaged managers have disengagement rates twice as high as employees reporting to engaged managers, write Fuller and Shikaloff.

"This further reinforces the Gallup finding that managers have a disproportionate impact on employee engagement scores, and that if companies are serious about improving their overall engagement, they would do well to begin with a focus on their managers," the authors conclude (Fuller/Shikaloff, Harvard Business Review, 12/14/16).

Managers are the key to retaining top talent

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