So it’s official. The honeymoon period is over after two years and its downhill all the way from then on – well if you’re a newly-appointed manager that is anyway.
Research by the Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM) has found that a ‘two year itch’ among managers is having a serious impact on productivity in the workplace. Their survey of more than 1,000 UK team leaders found that happiness reaches a peak during the first two years managers are in post – then drops off and continues to spiral downwards after that period.
The report ‘The Pursuit of Happiness: Positivity and Performance among UK Managers’, also showed a clear link between happiness and levels of performance. People who rated themselves as high performers were among the top 10 per cent for happiness, while there was a corresponding link between unhappy managers and those who rated themselves as poor performers.
Now it’s important that companies find ways to scratch this ‘two year itch’, not least because an unhappy manager is likely to head for the hills taking valuable skills and experience out of the door with them. But an unhappy manager also makes for an unhappy team. The research found that happiness – and therefore performance – tended to radiate up and down through the business. If the manager was happy and performing well so was the team – and vice versa.
So what can companies do to keep the romance alive and harness the energy and enthusiasm of their managers over the longer term?
Keep it Fresh
We all know what it’s like. When you first join a business you are generally bathed in a warm glow of attention. Everyone wants to talk to you, colleagues are happy to help you and people are keen to listen to your ideas. Fast forward a few months, however, and it’s a different story – the stardust has faded and you’ve just become part of the furniture. Whatever the size of your business, make sure you are not taking your managers for granted. Keep talking – and listening – and making attempts to make people feel special – and the relationship is less likely to go stale.
Keep development high on the agenda
Front-line managers are often last in the queue when it comes to training and development. Companies have a tendency to think that because they are in a management role they know what they’re doing and don’t need any further support. In today’s fast paced environment, however, everyone needs to keep learning just to stand still. The ILM survey showed a strong link between training and levels of engagement. If people see you are interested in their development they will feel more valued and will be more likely to remain enthusiastic participants in the business rather than dispirited passengers. Budgets may be tight, but training doesn’t have to be expensive. There are all sorts of low-cost ways – from mentoring to lunch and learn sessions – that can help people develop their skills.
We are all working in more pressurised environments nowadays, with leaner teams and more emphasis on targets and performance than ever before. Managers in SMEs – where there are typically less people around to do the work – are often more stressed then their peers in larger organisations where there are bigger teams and more resources to go round. Companies need to keep a close watch on stress levels in the business and look out for signs that individuals may be cracking under the strain. Make it clear to everyone that it’s acceptable to say if they’ve got too much work and can’t cope and that it won’t be regarded negatively. It may sound trivial, but businesses can also do much to reduce stress by dealing with the day-to-day irritations – like malfunctioning computers and non-working photocopiers – which all add to the overall strain. A stressed manager certainly won’t be a happy manager – so it’s definitely an issue worth paying attention to.
Have regular career conversations
The ILM research showed that managers who could see opportunities for progression and a clear career path were more likely to be happy and performing well. Even in SMEs, where there may be a flat structure and limited opportunities for promotion, it’s important to keep talking to people about progression. Most managers don’t want to stand still in their role and if you can show them how their job might develop over time they are more likely to continue bringing energy and enthusiasm to the role. Job swaps or shadowing, which help people learn about parts of the business they are not normally involved in, can help to keep engagement high. And of course the business benefits from more people who can multi-task and help other departments out when the pressure is on.
Give regular praise and feedback
There’s nothing worse than being ignored – and managers usually want to be told how they are doing. Good quality conversations about performance need to be taking place at all levels of the business, so make sure managers are not being left out. Give regular praise where praise is due and have constructive conversations about areas that may need attention. Make sure managers are in the loop about future plans for the business so that they are clear about their priorities and can see where their role fits in. Most managers will welcome the feedback and involvement and will be reassured that you are actually noticing and appreciating what they do.
Have you found that performance among managers dips after two years in the job? Let us know how you are dealing with the issue.