Employee Experience Strategy: Five Key Moments That Define Whether A Manager Cares

As originally published in Forbes here.

We are continuing our series around the three M’s of employee experience strategy that highlight the key moments in the employee experience that managers and organizations need to focus on and apply emotional intent to. Whenever I am brought into an organization to help elevate performance, improve specific results (especially around customer care) or create a better culture, it’s often the relationship between each employee and their manager that impacts attitude and effort the most.

Many organizations have plenty of managers but few leaders. I want to reiterate what I wrote in the first article of this series: Management and leadership are two sides of the same coin — inherently different but both necessary for a successful business. However, people and leadership skills matter most when it comes to culture and the employee experience.

Over the years, we have identified the key things leaders do to inspire their people’s hearts and minds — the most important being that the manager cares. With that in mind, let’s explore what a manager can do to instill a feeling within their employees that they care. Here are the top five moments that determine whether employees believe their leaders care.

1. Is my manager available and approachable when I need to talk or give feedback?

This moment is defined by whether an employee can bring anything to their manager’s attention anytime — often referred to as the open-door policy. The ODP may be one of the most disappointing management ideas over the years because it is often not easy for a manager to drop everything and listen to what an employee has to say. The manager needs to have the discipline to schedule conversations with their team either proactively or reactively. The easier part of this equation should be that an employee can bring anything to their manager; however, this is often not the case. We see many employee survey responses indicate their manager is unapproachable, especially when there is bad news, when they try to give them feedback about something the manager did or said or about something not work-related. When a manager reacts poorly in the moment an employee needs to speak to them, it indicates they do not care, and the employee will quickly stop bringing things to their attention.

2. Does my manager know what is truly important to me?

Employees feel their manager cares when they make an effort to understand what is most important to them outside of work. Managers should ask every employee: “What/who are the three most important elements in your life?” Often, the answer revolves around family, hobbies or interests, pets, sports teams, health or personal growth. Knowing what is most important to each employee allows a manager to engage in meaningful conversations, which go a long way toward making employees feel the manager cares.

3. Does my manager understand me?

In recent years, we consistently hear from employees that they want their manager to be willing to look at things from their point of view and understand why they may think or feel a certain way. Empathy is a necessary leadership trait. It comes from a manager’s ability to listen carefully, ask clarifying questions, put themselves in the employee’s shoes and validate their point of view or feelings. In the moment, the manager needs to stop what they are doing when an employee is speaking, look at non-verbal cues, listen to their tone of voice and be willing to look at things beyond their own point of reference. This does not mean the manager has to agree with everything an employee says, but they need to be willing to take the time to listen to understand, which is a strong indicator that they care.

4. Does my manager respect me?

From an employee’s perspective, respect is the result of the previously identified three moments. If a manager is available and approachable, gets to know an employee beyond their job and is empathetic, they are often considered respectful. The word’s original meaning from the Latin root respectus means to “look back on” or “have consideration for.” As such, respect requires a manager to consider and acknowledge an employee’s strengths, talents and what they are great at. Managers need to take the time to catch an employee at their best or see them do something well, recognizing their effort, achievement, strength or ability. An employee wants to be recognized for doing something well, so a manager can demonstrate their level of care by making an effort to see at least one of those moments every day.

5. Is my manager trustworthy?

Trust is one of the hardest things to develop and the easiest thing to lose in all aspects of our lives. An employee’s view of their manager’s trustworthiness is a culmination of everything outlined so far, especially whether a manager fulfills their promises and lives by their words. A manager’s trustworthiness is also dependent on whether an employee can speak in confidence — that anything they say will not be used against them nor shared throughout the company. Managers need to recognize the importance of when an employee confides in them. How a manager treats that moment, the employee and their response goes a long way in building a great culture and letting employees know they care.

Managers must be aware of these moments when presented to them. By being considerate of their employees and responding well, a manager can build a strong culture and deliver a great employee experience.

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