The Manager’s Role in Employee Retention and the Great Resignation

The Manager’s Role in Employee Retention and the Great Resignation

Table of Contents

As the end of 2021 comes into view, employee retention tops the list of urgent items. The Great Resignation shows little sign of abating. But while business leaders look to fix the issue with increased compensation and flexibility, they overlook a major player in talent retention: the manager’s role.

Employees leaving? Check out the other pieces in our employee retention series:

Managers and employee retention: the data

Current research overwhelmingly highlights that a worker’s relationship with their direct manager can make or break employee satisfaction, engagement, and ultimately, retention. Want data? The Predictive Index‘s recent report revealed that managers are the key swing factor for employee experience and employee retention.

For teams with “bad” managers (ranked by employees on a 1-5 scale)

  • 63% of workers are considering leaving within next 12 months
  • 70% say their team members are considering quitting within the next 12 months
  • 58% of workers are actively considering resigning
  • 73% say their coworkers seem burned out at work

The pattern is clear. As the manager goes, so goes their team. So what makes a great manager?

What makes a good manager when it comes to employee retention and the Great Resignation?

What does a manager who engages and retains employees look like? Here are the top 5 qualities, according to employees in the Predictive Index study:

  1. Confidence (33%)
  2. Communication (30%)
  3. Honesty (28%)
  4. Ability to delegate (26%)
  5. Asks for feedback (24%)

And according to those same employees, these are the top 3 qualities they feel their managers lack:

  1. Communication (18%)
  2. Drives team morale  (17%)
  3. Provides feedback (17%)

How do these statistics translate to real life?

When asked how their managers address problems with employee morale, nearly half of the respondents with great managers said that “they lead by example.” These managers intentionally model the behaviors and mindset that promote their team’s overall health. This may mean something as visible as signing off work at 5:00, or prioritizing family and health. They’re also more likely to schedule 1-on-1 Sync-Up to proactively resolve problems their team is facing.

By contrast, only 12% of those with poor managers answered that they serve as purposeful  role models. In fact, 46% said that their manager doesn’t do much to rectify employee engagement problems at all. 

Great managers prioritize people, purpose, and teamwork- in short, employee success. Poor managers tend to focus on tasks and to-do’s. 

6 key management elements for employee engagement and talent retention

How can managers create a winning employee experience? Here are six key elements of a no-fail employee retention strategy:

1. Sync-Ups

There’s no substitute for dedicated face time — whether in real life or through a screen. A regular rhythm of 1-on-1 Sync-Up conversations builds a foundation of trust and sets team members up for success. What do you get from it? Connection, timely intervention, and the promotion of the person’s well-being

Need proof? In a study of 38,000 workers, those whose managers functioned more as a partner were overwhelmingly happier and more loyal to their organizations.

Pro tips for the Sync-Up:

  • Set aside time to talk about life outside of work
  • Ask open-ended questions regarding project updates, roadblocks and challenges
  • Ask your employee what tools, support, opportunities, or training they need
  • Get more tips in our Ultimate Guide to Sync-Ups for Managers

Tips, sample questions, and more. Read:
The Ultimate Guide to Effective 1-on-1s for Managers

2. Feedback

24% of employees report that receiving inadequate feedback from a manager would prompt them to consider leaving their role. On the flip side, 43% of highly engaged employees receive feedback at least once a week

Creating a culture of continuous feedback breaks down barriers and fosters a sense of shared mission and equity.

Pro tips for giving feedback:

  • Make feedback timely. Don’t wait for the next Sync-Up or quarterly Check-In (or worse – the outdated annual performance review. You can hop on WorkTango’s Employee Experience platform anytime to give Recognition & Rewards or to initiate feedback through the Goals & Feedback solution.)
  • Tie actions to outcomes: “When you did X, Y was the result”
  • Remember to give both constructive feedback and positive feedback (click the links for examples)
  • Invite feedback regularly and receive it well

Make giving feedback a breeze. Read:
Employee Feedback 101: Tips, Tricks, & Best Practices

3. Recognition & Rewards

Recognition is the #1 factor affecting the sense of belonging at work. In fact, 81% of employees report they work harder when their manager expresses appreciation. Conversely, a lack of recognition is the most common reason employees give for leaving their jobs.

Pro tips for recognition:

  • Recognize employees in a way that’s meaningful to them. Remember that not everybody loves public attention
  • Give recognition when it counts in the moment (it only takes a second in the Recognition & Rewards platform.)
  • Make recognition specific. Show the person the difference their contribution or presence made. “Because you did X, we were able to Y.”
  • Celebrate daily wins not just big achievements
  • Encourage peer-to-peer recognition

4. Transparency

After all the changes that have rocked workplaces since early 2020, transparency between managers and their teams has never been more essential. Workers report that they value communication and honesty more highly than almost all other traits in a team leaderSo, as difficult as frank conversations can be, sharing the truth (especially around changes in personnel and policy) actually builds rapport and trust.

Plus, Gallup reveals that the results of that action are powerful: those who feel they can talk to their managers about anything are 52% more likely to be engaged in their work.

Pro tips for transparency:

  • Don’t skip the Sync-Ups. Lay the foundation of rapport and trust in regular conversations year-round
  • Make your team aware of upcoming organizational changes and why they’re happening
  • If you can’t be 100% open about the why, assure your team you’re telling them as much as you can tell them, and that you’ll update them when you’re able

5. Goals & professional development opportunities

Top performers seek jobs that will help them grow into the best version of themselves. That’s why people whose managers help them set goals are 61% more likely to be engaged.

Want more proof? Over 82% of workers recently surveyed reported that a lack of progression in their careers would cause them to seek a new job. And yet,  77% say they feel like they’re “on their own” to develop their careers. 

Pro tips on goal-setting and career-building

  • Set goals regularly with your teams — we recommend quarterly goal cycles
  • Use a clear goal framework, like individual SMART goals aligned with business OKRs to set your team up for success. Record them in the Goals & Feedback solution to keep individuals and teams aligned.
  • Use time in your weekly Sync-Ups to discuss goal progress and development opportunities
  • Dedicate a portion of your quarterly Check-In conversation to career-building. Ask your reports what they’d like to do next, and what they need from you to get there

Watch our video:
SMART goals or OKRs? (Spoiler: It’s both)

6. Flexibility and employee wellness

The pandemic ushered in shocking, rapid-fire changes to the world of work. More than 2 in 3 workplaces are planning to continue offering a hybrid model for employees. 80% of people say they’d choose a job that offered flexible work options over one that didn’t. And 78% agree that their workplace is responsible for supporting their whole-person well-being.  

Managers who operate from a basis of empathy, flexibility, and care are most likely to lead engaged teams. Because of close relationships with direct reports, they’re also uniquely qualified to advocate for benefits that support employees’ needs — mental health care, child-care subsidies, and services such as telehealth. One manager even noticed an uptick in divorce rates during the pandemic and successfully lobbied for marriage counseling to be added as a benefit.

Pro tips for flexibility and employee wellness:

  • Again: Don’t skip the Sync-Ups. These weekly conversations are crucial for building trust, connection, and empathy that create supportive relationships
  • Work with your company to allow sustainable flexibility in schedules and work locations 
  • Remember to put on your own oxygen mask — if you’re burned out, your team is more likely to burn out, too
  • Wherever possible, model a healthy work-life balance, and talk openly with your team about mental health

How organizations can support managers for talent retention

We know that managers are at increased risk of burnout with 59% saying they feel overworked. So what can organizations do to support these critical team players?

Here are 5 ways to build a strong foundation.

Provide a clear, organization-wide goals process

Make it easy for managers to track the goal status of their teams with intuitive technology like WorkTango’s Goals and Feedback solution. Help managers connect their team’s goals to larger organizational goals — and their own.

Make regular Sync-Ups and quarterly Check-In feedback an organization-wide policy

Lift some of the logistical burden for managers by supplying templates and guiding questions they can use, plus the tech to enable easy scheduling.

Move goals and reviews from an annual process to a quarterly one

Quarterly Check-In goals help people keep momentum, stay on course, and remember to celebrate small wins. They keep the focus on development all year long, help managers spot employee progress, and allow workers to build on their successes.

Provide training and support on transitioning from the managing mindset to the coaching mindset

Help your managers succeed by connecting them with resources to guide them into thinking like coaches. This might mean extending modeling or mentoring opportunities, offering seminars, supplying access to books and time allocated to study, or providing help in soliciting feedback from their teams. WorkTango’s Surveys & Insights solution provides customized action and learning recommendations for managers based on their team members’ responses. 

Use survey insights and reporting to track engagement

Technology can help identify which teams are lagging in engagement. From there, you can find ways to support the managers of those teams in their growth process — or, move them to a role they’re better-suited for.

Build stronger managers for talent retention with WorkTango

We hope this article helped you understand the powers managers have over employee retention, and gave you tips for how to turn the tide. And if you like what you read, let’s talk.


Learn more