The health and engagement levels of management teams have an exponential impact on the performance of a company. If a manager is disengaged, their direct reports are 3 x more likely to be disengaged. A 2021 report found that 82% of all workers had considered quitting their jobs at some point due to their managers. A 2022 report from the UK found that 43% of workers had left their job at some point due to their manager. In the not-so-distant past, poor levels of employee engagement didn't matter, jobs were available in limited supply and the majority of jobs required people to complete low-skill repetitive tasks. Today's landscape couldn't be any more different.
In 2022 the BBC reported that for the first time since records began there were more job vacancies than unemployed people in the UK. Technology has made the business landscape more competitive and fast-changing than ever before - which means businesses need highly engaged, innovative, collaborative people ready to embrace change throughout all levels of employment in their companies. Good engagement can't be achieved without good health. An engaged workforce can't be achieved without engaged management teams.
I've worked with hundreds of managers over the past 18 months seeing the same journeys and symptoms time and time again. I've been through this exact journey myself (multiple times) made the mistakes and experienced the issues. By understanding this journey all managers (and leaders) go through we can avoid the negatives and amplify the positives.
So here are the four phases of the manager health & engagement journey:
1. The Passion Phase. Newly promoted managers tend to fall into the passion phase. On average they can stay in this phase for 6-18 months. They're excited about the new responsibility and their vision of all the great things they intend to achieve. They have usually been promoted to this role for being a highly competent hard worker so that's the approach to work they have learnt works best and gets rewarded. I often refer to these managers as overly engaged as you can see on the journey chart they're just above the optimal line. This is because often managers at this phase are so committed to the role and excited by their vision that they willingly overwork. Health levels of course vary across individuals but by and large health levels in managers are lower than ideal because health levels are low across British society and they tend to place work above health in their priority list (although this is starting to change with employees across the UK now).
2. The Risk Phase. Most managers fall into the risk phase anywhere between 6-18 months in role. It's at this phase that the manager begins to realise that their approach to management and work isn't sustainable or highly effective. Typically it's the combination of the working hard attitude combined with new and wider responsibilities that kicks the Risk Phase into action. The manager starts to feel overwhelmed. No matter how hard they work they just don't seem to be able to achieve the high standard of results they so desperately want to achieve. It's common for managers to begin experiencing issues with their team in this phase. It's also common for managers to start experiencing poor mental health in this phase. The major problem is that the approach they have taken to work for so long, that has always worked well and they have been rewarded for isn't effective in the management position. With the right understanding, proactive training and support the negative impacts of the risk phase can be significantly mitigated.
3. The Grow or Go Phase. After going through the risk phase managers fall into the grow or go phase and can stay here for up to 12 months (maybe longer if they're particularly stubborn). It's at this stage that the manager fully accepts mentally that they have to change to thrive in the role. If they choose to grow they will go through a challenging stage of change leading to wonderful results for them, their teams, their families and the business. If they choose not to change and/or are not supported to change, they're going to either:
- Burnout (long-term sick, unlikely to return)
- Leave for a competitor
- Stick around disengaged/unhappy because they lack the drive to go elsewhere
- Request to be moved out of the management role into something different
None of these options is good for them or the business (apart from the cases where the person is genuinely not put together to be a good manager but this is rarely the case). To enable the growth option here businesses need to commit to supporting their managers through this journey and managers need to commit to embracing a new way of doing things. From my experience to date, most businesses are weak. If you have a high turnover of managers at the 1-3 year time in role scale this is likely to be the reason why.
4. The Optimal Phase. If you have managers that others envy because they get great results, have a happy team and seem rarely stressed they're in the optimal zone. Although some managers get there through intuition and their own learning, most don't get there without support. When a manager gets into the optimal zone they go through the full realisation that focussing less on simply working hard and more on working smart as well as empowering their team members achieve better results. This leads to the upward spiral of better results, happier team members and less workload for the manager.
Understanding these phases can help business leaders pave the way for industry-leading levels of employee health and engagement in any type of company - something that is essential in today's world. Just reading this post and analysing the journey image will make you more aware of where your managers are at, what they might be going through and what they might need. No business will ever be without its challenges but in general, a business should be an enjoyable rewarding place that brings people together for a unified purpose of making the world a better place in some form or other. If you want to achieve that, make sure you're proactively guiding your managers through the growth phase.
Author - Mike Jones
Better Happy Founder
Employee engagement & wellbeing consultant