Servant leadership is uniquely positioned to shore up Employee-Manager relationships in our tumultuous pandemic world.
The turn of the decade triggered huge shifts in social structure. Every side of life took a hit, had to reconfigure. But—perhaps surprisingly—2022 showed the first decline in employee satisfaction in a decade.
Historically in the US, there are about two engaged employees for every disengaged employee (which, whoa, is a bite to chew by itself!). The end of 2021 saw a dip from 36% to 34% satisfaction. “Gallup measures employee engagement by asking random samples of the working population about specific workplace elements that link to many organizational outcomes, including profitability, productivity, customer service, retention, safety and overall well being.” So satisfaction (or lack thereof) is not just a payday moment.
Two percentage points might not seem significant, but that represents 3.2 million people. That’s 3.2 million people who made it through the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic feeling like they were in it together with their workplace. Then, they weren’t.
Heard of the saying “quitting the boss, not the job”? A significant portion of employee engagement is directly derived from relationships with next-level managers. When Gallup was polling the workplace during the ‘Great Resignation,’ they found that “it takes more than a 20% pay raise to lure most employees away from a manager who engages them, and next to nothing to poach most disengaged workers.”
That doesn’t mean that managers are comprehensively to blame for the downturn of employee satisfaction. In fact, managers themselves have experienced an even steeper drop in engagement than their direct reports: seven points, not two. “Managers saw the steepest declines in feeling that they have clear expectations and someone who encourages their development.” Our leaders are feeling leader-less.
And what do we want most in a leader? “In this new world, the best path to an exceptional employee experience — not to mention, high performance — is for employees to have a coach, not a boss.” Those words, coach and boss trigger deep cultural feelings of positivity or negativity. In short, we want someone who dignifies us, not demeans us. Someone who, as CWL guest Anita Ward explains, puts an individual not protocol at the center of decision-making.
This manager broke every standard operating procedure, but he treated me like a human being. And he put me as an individual at the center of his decision-making, versus protocol. He gave me dignity that for 15 years I didn’t have. Servant leadership is about providing people with dignity.Anita Ward // Chat with Leaders, Episode 114
This does not mean a free-for-all permissiveness. Managers have been caught among the cross-currents of public safety, organizational policy, and individual traumas (and triumphs!) of their team members. But there’s a simple technique to navigate these complexities. It can transform top-down friction into high-quality collaboration: curiosity.
Ask more questions. Gallup counsels that “the best coaches display a genuine interest in the individual…” As CWL guest James Carbary, author of Content-Based Networking, puts it: “Position yourself as a journalist trying to tell a story that they’re a critical piece of.” Carbary applies the technique in the context of content creation (think, podcasts, and social media posts). But, ultimately, the content on which every employee collaborates with every manager is their work product.
Create content with the people you want to know. That’s how you can actively write your story. Figure out how you can add value to that person. Can you create a piece of content with them that highlights them as the guest expert? Position yourself as a journalist trying to tell a story that they’re a critical piece of.James Carbary // Chat with Leaders Podcast, Episode 112
The average worker (including part-time) spends 34.5 hours weekly at their job. That’s almost a third of one’s waking hours. Consequently, the Employee-Manager relationship is incredibly vital to daily satisfaction. Re-centering ourselves into a place of curiosity and dignity might just help us all ride life’s waves more buoyantly.