Workplace stress is on the rise, and people managers are feeling the pressure. Managers are tasked with delivering business outcomes and developing their employees. The job can be stressful during the best of times, but when larger forces introduce unexpected disruption, managers must not only handle the change but also maintain employee engagement and support an agile mindset among their team.
Technology can help. Digital workflows create efficiencies by improving the way existing processes interact with each other, reducing the time and energy managers spend on routine tasks, and helping them focus on their employees.
Melanie Lougee, head of employee workflow strategy at ServiceNow, spoke with SHRM Online at the HR Technology Conference & Exposition in Las Vegas about the evolving role of the manager; common pain points of people management; and how technology can help managers do their job, especially as more is being asked of them.
ServiceNow, based in Santa Clara, Calif., has become one of the recognized leaders in digital workflow and employee experience technology.
SHRM Online: How has the manager role evolved in the last two to three years?
Lougee: Expectations of managers have changed a lot since the pandemic. Managers who were used to managing an in-person workforce had to figure out how to adapt to managing a remote or hybrid workforce. The pace of change has accelerated, causing a lot of disruption in companies. Managers find themselves in between the organization, which is adopting new policies in the face of larger change, and the employees, who expect personalized attention and need to feel that connection with the employer that managers are often responsible for.
The manager role is stressful right now. That has been driving the question of what managers need to do to be successful in their role. From a technology usability standpoint, even before the pandemic hit, the proliferation of point solutions made managing employees more difficult.
Historically, managers have had to use multiple apps and solutions to do their job. They may have a different app for everything from reviewing job candidates to approving time cards, establishing goals, and managing or recognizing performance. Because these apps are disconnected, managers find themselves toggling back and forth between tabs multiple times a day to do even the simplest tasks. This is time-consuming and frustrating for managers who should be focused on people and productivity, not broken processes. And because these apps are disconnected, data and information are siloed, making visibility or insights across team goals and activities impossible. This is a problem that needs to be solved. If technology doesn't work for managers, managers are less productive with their work, and less effective at leading their people.
SHRM Online: How do you see the role of the manager evolving over the next few years?
Lougee: The expectations of a manager have evolved from driving deadlines to driving the entire employee experience. They are expected to be coaches, leaders and sometimes supportive therapists. While driving deadlines is still key, just as critical is ensuring that team members are given the opportunities, projects, resources and trainings that help them be successful.
Agility is key in everything going forward, both personally and professionally. A good manager will start looking more like a talent agent. What I mean is that as companies start paying attention to things like internal mobility and skills-based hiring and development, it will become clearer who can be moved, which roles need to be hired for, etc., and the manager will play a key role in that, making sure that their employees are getting those opportunities.
Organizations need to help managers in this new reality, with solutions that can be customized to both employee and business needs while also planning for future talent requirements. Managers, in partnership with the entire leadership team, need to consider avenues for internal mobility and upskilling to fill roles, address business needs, and more effectively retain employees.
SHRM Online: How can organizations best set managers up for success?
Lougee: It starts with culture and expectations. Being very clear on what are the values, the principles and expectations of the company. And then supporting managers by simplifying the tools they are using. The average manager touches more than 20 different applications to manage their people. That needs to be rationalized and streamlined. Another thing is to create positive encouragement for good behavior. It should be clear who the great managers are, based on transparent evaluations, because they meet with their employees, their employees are being recognized and promoted and they are thriving. And great managers should be recognized and compensated for their success.
SHRM Online: What are managers' common pain points?
Lougee: The biggest one is the pace of change. Dealing with unpredictability and the need to balance business continuity when things are turbulent while also having very human, personalized interactions with their employees that will help them get through the changes, so they stay with the employer instead of going somewhere else. It can be very hard to balance those two things. Employees have individual needs that must be cared for, and the business wants to move fast through disruption.
Amid all of this disruption and change, managers are challenged with increased workloads, uncertainty about the future for themselves and their teams, helping their team manage well-being and burnout, while also managing their own mental health. This has been intensifying over the last few years. Leading organizations know mental health and well-being need to be a priority, otherwise, people will leave.
SHRM Online: What technologies are managers craving to do their jobs better?
Lougee: Most managers are asking for less technology. They have a pile of point solutions that HR ushered in, in an HR-centric way, to gather data that HR needed, and I think it's time for a next generation of tools that will come from asking managers what they want, not what HR thinks they need.
Going forward it will be much more about simplifying and consolidating. Technology that provides managers with a single destination to track and respond to employee tasks or requests gives them better insights into their teams' journeys across geographies or other variances, and it also delivers personalized resources and training to help them grow as leaders.
Managers should be able to help their team in a seamless workflow. And managers need support. They need resources and development that is easy to incorporate into their busy workday.