For many reasons, managing employees is still more challenging than ever. In addition to having to perform their job duties in ever evolving new and creative ways due to the pandemic, managers are expected to supervise working on a remote or hybrid basis; ensure vaccinations and testing requirements are satisfied; handle accommodation requests and juggle leave issues; understand and comply with ever changing employment laws; and fulfill challenging client and customer needs – among other things. And, by the way, many employers expect managers to already know how to do all of this.

The short response, in my view, to this awesome challenge is that in many instances managers have not been taught the key strategies for effectively managing employees in the best of circumstances, much less in these extraordinary circumstances. The unspoken danger is that many managers are reticent to ask HR and senior management for assistance or to acknowledge their shortcomings as supervisors for fear of looking, well, foolish and/or incompetent. What employers, almost regardless of size, and regardless of whether they are for profit or not for profit, need to appreciate is that the effective training of managers is still more important than ever.

Why is Manager Training So Important Now?

There are at least six key reasons why training managers is so critically important now:

  1. The sheer scope and volume of existing and new employment laws make managing employees effectively very difficult. It seems that hardly a week goes by without some new federal, state, and/or local law being enacted, which addresses leave related issues or some governmental ruling or directive associated with COVID. In addition, new employment laws regarding, among other things, protected leave, employee compensation and prohibiting restrictions on outside work are being enacted with regularity.
  2. Employees are dealing with unprecedented stress. Remote and hybrid work arrangements require employees to strengthen existing skills, and master new ones in order to operate effectively in the new employment world. They are often being asked to do so with fewer resources. And, of course, they are being asked to do so while also assuming, in many instances, responsibility for the care of not only themselves but family members in connection with health related COVID matters as well as collateral issues associated with the pandemic, such as childcare. Understandably, employees are experiencing burnout in escalating numbers.
  3. Client and customer needs continue to evolve. All over the country companies and organizations are revisiting their business models. This has resulted in interim (and sometimes permanent) changes to office footprints, a streamlining of resources, and to new means of communication (“Zoom” having become a noun, verb, and adverb) to remain profitable or, as the case may be, even viable.
  4. The safety consequences associated with COVID are having a profound impact upon managers and employees alike. The ramifications of decisions by mid-level managers and senior managers regarding whether and, if so, to what extent to allow employees to return to work have tremendous safety ramifications. Midlevel managers are increasingly playing a very significant role in either the consideration of these decisions and/or their implementation.
  5. The future is uncertain and frightening. The proliferation and the spread of new variants; the uncertainty associated with booster shots; vaccination mandates; and changing economic conditions all speak to a highly uncertain future on many levels.
  6. The “Great Resignation”. The “loyalty bonds” which employees have with employers have been fraying for years for a variety of reasons. The pandemic has prompted employees to reconsider priorities; decide what is most important to them; and conclude that life is far too short to spend in an unhappy and unhealthy work environment. As my friend, business consultant and best selling author, Dr. Alan Gregerman, wrote in an excellent article entitled “The Future of Work and Employee Engagement”, although salary matters to employees, his quick survey of customers and many of their young and talented employees suggests that five things matter more: (i) the nature of the work and doing stuff that matters; (ii) the opportunity to learn new things that benefit their careers and lives; (iii) the sense of belonging, especially when employees are not in the office regularly; (iv) the chance to do good together in a place that cares about more than the bottom line; and (v) the ability to have fun together. Managers who attempt to manage without at least a basic understanding of the context in which they are managing are like vacationers heading off on a long journey without directions – it is a prescription for getting lost (or worse).

The Good News: Effective Manager Training Works and is Readily Achievable

The good news is that effective and sound manager training can play a vital role in addressing these and other issues. Although the nature and contours of any manager training program are highly dependent upon the business of the company or organization and the particular industry, effective training ordinarily involves a dynamic review and discussion of the following:

  1. The numerous applicable employment laws and the practical, real world ways in which they impact the workplace.
  2. Strategies for improving communication with employees, particularly those who are working on a remote or hybrid basis.
  3. Strategies for working effectively with Human Resources and senior management.
  4. The importance of updating job descriptions to properly reflect new and/or different work assignments and responsibilities.
  5. A review of the basics for understanding and complying with applicable leave laws handling leave accommodation requests by employees.
  6. Why meaningful evaluations are so important and how to conduct them
  7. The critical need for formal and informal feedback on a regular basis.
  8. What, in addition to compensation, matters to employees and keeps them engaged.

Focused Training on Specific Topics

Clients and business advisors often ask me how much manager training employers actually need. The short response is that manager training is not a once a year check the box item on a “to do list.” Successful employers understand that manager training is and should be part of an organization’s DNA. It is a mindset; an investment in staff. Larger employers sometimes have professionals whose primary function is training and education. For the majority of employers, I typically recommend regular manager training sessions which cover the following areas:

  • sexual and other types of unlawful harassment;
  • effective (and legal) interviewing and background check practices;
  • handling employee performance and discipline issues (including terminations);
  • handling leave and accommodation requests;
  • understanding overtime and other compensation issues;
  • implicit bias and stereotyping; and
  • conflict resolution

Conclusion and Next Steps

Successful employers understand that, in the vast majority of cases, effective and respected managers are not born; rather, they are trained and, more specifically, trained well and regularly. Promoting a culture of regular training of managers and one in which managers feel comfortable (i) asking for assistance and (ii) acknowledging their shortcomings as supervisors are critical elements of success. Employers that commit to these dual goals will empower managers to make confident decisions; assist them in identifying employee issues early on when they can be addressed meaningfully; improve the feedback loop for employees and senior management alike; and promote an atmosphere where managers can identify and unlock the talents and potential of employees (and, in so doing, improve employee retention).

The notion that training managers was a luxury that employers could not afford was always a myth. Now, more than ever, training managers effectively can provide a pathway to success.

Marc R. Engel is an employment attorney experienced in providing successful strategies for managing employees and preventing employment claims. For more information, contact Marc at 301-657-0184 or [email protected].