Eugene Farrell

How leaders can best support line manager wellbeing in the months ahead

6 September 2020

The global pandemic has for many people significantly disrupted the world of work, with many organisations shifting to remote working almost overnight. The disruption has presented many challenges including getting work tasks done, completing projects, IT infrastructure and team interaction, as well as brought many positives too. As we move through the evolution of work during COVID-19, and look to the future, how can leaders most effectively support their people managers?

First and foremost the best way to support others is to support yourself. ‘How are you?’ is an internal campaign AXA shared with precisely that in mind. How often do we check in with ourselves? This sense check can alert us to where support may be required and better arm us for the day ahead readying ourselves to support others. 

It is important to understand that, as leaders, although we may want to, we do not have all of the answers. The fluidity of this current situation means that leaders have to be resilient and adapt to changes in a flexible way. Getting line managers on-board with the idea that uncertainty is certain is a critical aspect of good leadership. Admitting uncertainty feels uncertain, unfamiliar, uncomfortable and perhaps even risky is both genuine and honest.

Being prepared to change tack when required is also a valuable quality. What must be avoided is sticking to something without being willing to consider change. Foster openness, trust and honesty, with communication both up and down. 

Communication needs to be clear. Be clear about what is expected in your business and of your line managers. Set guidelines and expectations so that managers will understand where things are going and what is expected of them. If those expectations change, then communicate that quickly and with reasons. Make your line managers feel part of the process in order to pass on with confidence to their teams.

Model positive behaviours, genuine interest and empathy. These behaviours signal to managers what is expected of them too and how they can bring these behaviours to their teams. It is your people who are going to make the difference. The difference in really doing it well in actions and deeds and maintaining that focus can be almost tangible. 

Understand the skills and capabilities in your manager population and invest in their development. Resilience, confidence, coaching, as well as wellbeing awareness are all essential capabilities that can be developed. 

Don’t expect everyone to be the same. In the same vein it is unrealistic to expect all managers to cope equally, levels of resilience, experience and skillset do vary, and we should also remember that past coping is no predictor of future coping. So be on alert for changes that indicate a decline. Sometimes this is a sort of sixth sense leaders develop. It can also be behaviour or work changes, lack of engagement, maintaining distance or a loss of sense of humour.

Leaders must protect the wellbeing of their line managers too. You need to look for signs of overwork that could lead to burnout. While home working has an advantage of flexibility it can become omnipresent, and overshadow normal home life. The balance between overwork and flexibility is a fine margin. As leaders we should trust people to manage their workload and give autonomy to work at a time that suits them in line with business objectives. We should promote a sustainable pace of work, that allows realistic deadline setting, and avoids repetitive short deadline And be on alert to watch out for the tell signs somethings not right. 

Keeping in touch needs to be encouraged for managers too so they can talk to each other, share ideas, frustrations and, most importantly, support each other. A lot has been talked about virtual coffee catch ups but there is merit in positively encouraging this still. Human connection beyond work talk is a powerful stabiliser.

Lastly a great leader surrounds themselves with diverse people who bring different skills, ideas, experiences and imperfections. As a group, they can see and learn from each other. The synergistic effect of a group with shared experience is something to be prized, and COVID is providing some unique opportunities to have them.

This is a time for available leadership, which is trusting, decisive, genuine and human. And in supporting your Line Managers don’t forgo the important step of setting time aside to support yourself too.