How to keep your top team happy

When senior managers fall into a rut at work, team morale, engagement and retention can quickly take a hit, says Kedge Martin

There’s a risk that with the current focus on promoting a work-life balance, other elements needed to keep your leaders and senior managers happy and engaged are being overlooked by the HR team.

In my experience there are four factors that often tip managers into a work rut, which can quickly lead to stress and lethargy. These are: isolation; lack of challenge and use of skills; paucity of recognition and respect; and learning and personal development has ground to a halt.

This is important to HR because when senior managers fall into a rut at work, the impact trickles through an organisation fast. Unhappy leaders can quickly undermine team morale and cause employee disengagement and attrition. 

In the last decade we have seen organisations put increasing emphasis on work-life balance initiatives as a way of improving employee engagement. Yet our research shows that senior managers, leaders and executives are just as motivated by earning respect for a challenging project as they are by more time out of the office.

Respect, recognition and appreciation

We spoke to 1,000 managers and executives about what they needed to be happy at work, and found that leaders value earning respect or being held in esteem (72 per cent) above more flexibility to work from home (66 per cent). In fact, 64 per cent said being given a challenging project for which they could earn respect was a key motivator at work.

So, the irony is that for all the efforts of making work more balanced, homeworking is no more appealing to managers than bit of respect and more challenge. That said, handing out a challenging project to a leader who doesn’t feel they have the time or support to commit to it will do little to boost morale; in fact, it could have the opposite effect of further isolating them. The challenge for people managers is to create projects that are aligned with the individuals’ skillset and then provide the support and training they need to achieve their goals. 

Improved L&D offering

HR managers understand the benefits that ongoing professional development has for business. After all, it’s usually their responsibility to set up and implement training programmes. Yet our research found that 41 per cent of senior managers feel that the older they get the less training they receive. Even more worryingly, more than a third of respondents (34 per cent) said their organisations had no training programmes for senior executives.

It may be that your business has an extensive menu of training courses on offer but take-up from managers has been slow or non-existent. It’s worth considering whether this is because the training on offer is not suitable for your managers, or whether it’s because they don’t have the time to commit to it. Only by understanding the reasons for low take-up will you be able to make changes to improve it.

There will also be people who resist training simply because they have lost their work mojo and have no desire to find it. When this happens no amount of training or support will help them out of the work rut. Instead, look for alternative strategies to help them.

Mid-life audit

We have seen more organisations beginning to use independent ‘mid-life audits’ as a way of boosting retention and reinvigorating its middle-aged workforce. Such reviews help clarify the individual’s personal and professional life pressure points and put in place solutions to address them. This may include a training programme or other activities (or not) that might boost the employee’s work satisfaction levels, while showing that the company cares about its leaders holistically, not just their work output.

Managers need to trust that ‘audits’ will have no impact on work performance reviews, so it’s always best to use an independent professional. Simply by giving your managers someone to talk to, you could save many problems further down the line – especially if it is someone you don’t want to lose to a rival.

Pep up or push off?

And finally, our research shows that a core element of managers feel stuck in a job they hate because they have no other option. When the strengths and values that propel a manager to a top role is at risk of becoming toxic, it will affect everyone – from the investors to the employees. To help them avoid stress and burnout, work with them to identify transferable skills and look for opportunities outside their current role.  

Your staff are your most valuable asset – pro-actively look after and care for them as a whole human being, and recognise that they have an impact both within and outside the office, and your business will thrive.

Kedge Martin is CEO of executive mentoring company Rutbusters