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5 Strategies for Stronger Employee-Manager Relationships

It’s a given that healthy employee-manager relationships enhance your success. But it’s easy to underestimate just how powerful they truly are. 

According to McKinsey, an employee’s relationship with his or her manager is the top contributor to job satisfaction, as well as a major factor affecting employee well-being. 

But that is not always a good thing. For example, 75% of workers say their boss was the most stressful part of their job, according to an American Psychological Association survey.

And managers are struggling, too—caught between the competing agendas of leadership and staff. No wonder 45% of middle managers report feelings of burnout, which, of course, makes it even harder to form authentic bonds with direct reports.   

However, this is something every organization can improve. As with all human connections, empathy, understanding, and ongoing communication is the key to cultivating sound employee-manager relationships—and these five strategies can help.  

1. Emphasize Meaningful Employee-Manager Conversations 

An employee's conversations with their manager—those all-important one-on-ones—define that employee’s work experience, according to Gallup research

Abrupt, critical words from a manager can do more than ruin an employee’s day; they can lead to quiet (or actual) quitting. Conversely, when a manager serves as an encouraging, positive force in the workplace, it drives productivity and creativity. 

Specifically, effective managers:

  • Ask employees how they are, forging a personal connection
  • Provide specific, positive feedback—and invite it as well
  • Thank employees frequently for their contributions
  • Set clear expectations
  • Provide coaching when opportunities arise

Good managers recognize that genuine conversation is a two-way street. They ask employees questions, listen, respond honestly and directly—and apply what they learn to the way they manage each employee going forward.

2. Chart a Path to the Future, Together 

One of the best ways managers can motivate their employees is to not only ask them what their career goals are but to also actively help employees take steps to achieve them.

These managers offer employees personalized growth opportunities—whether in the form of new tasks or projects, formal upskilling initiatives, or supplemental training. They will even make recommendations, such as books to read and skills to acquire, to help employees grow their knowledge and capabilities.

When managers mentor their employees on any level, it’s gratifying to both parties—and it benefits the company, too. 

3. Celebrate Milestones and Successes

It’s a basic human need to feel valued. When managers praise their employees’ performance—whether through formal recognition programs or casual praise—it serves as a powerful incentive to keep raising the bar.

Similarly, when managers take the time to celebrate employees’ birthdays and work anniversaries, it creates a sense of belonging and camaraderie that increases job satisfaction, while building a bond that transcends a paycheck.

4. Encourage a Healthy Work-Life Balance

Today, virtually every employee seeks a better work-life balance. And they deserve it—employees and managers alike.

While more employers are embracing the concept—who doesn’t want happier, more productive employees?—not everyone is there yet. But when managers actively encourage employees to use their PTO, take full vacations, and practice self-care, it sends the message that their well-being matters. It’s a compelling message that employees want to hear.

Of course, the prioritization of work-life balance is most effective when managers and senior leadership model the behavior, too.

5. Support and Train Your Managers 

Not every great manager was born that way. Employees aren’t the only ones who benefit from coaching and support.

According to an SHRM survey, the five top skills that employees wish their manager would hone include communicating well, training and developing their team, time management and delegation skills, creating a positive and inclusive culture, and managing team performance.

The good news is that these skills can be learned and developed by giving managers specific training, tools, and techniques for connecting with employees.

In addition, make sure that middle managers receive what they need from their management: clear, achievable goals and direction, a sense of inclusion, and recognition for a job well done.

Every employee and manager has a distinctive workplace love language. Discover your workplace love language—and that of your coworkers’—to further strengthen your relationships. 

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