Giving managers a role in the return to work

As more people return to office-based work, an interesting double standard has emerged: while junior people are being encouraged – and in some cases told – to return to the office – many of those in leadership roles are continuing to work predominantly from home.

In fact, according to research conducted by Slack in 2022, regular staff are twice as likely to work from the office, compared with managers. So, what’s driving this disconnect?

The shifting role of managers

The new world of work is challenging for managers. Even before the pandemic, many had seen their roles change beyond recognition, stretching to encompass coaching and career management as well as managing performance and workflow. These additional burdens have manifested as burnout: Gallup polls during 2021 consistently revealed that this burnout worsened as the pandemic progressed. Little wonder, then, that managers are reluctant to add a daily commute to the stresses on their plate.

The work managers do

Beyond these pressures, the past two years have taught us all a lot more about where different types of work can be done. Many managers in knowledge industries spend much of their time on focused work – and this can be done effectively at home, alone, without distractions. In contrast, junior people may spend more time in collaborative work or customer facing sales roles which require them to be in the office.

As valid as their reasons for staying at home might be, in the long term, managers’ absence has a damaging effect. It harms the sense of fairness that many organisations have worked to create over the past two years – and diminishes trust between people and their leaders.

Lack of organisational narrative and vision around hybrid work

Of course, managers aren’t entirely to blame for this disconnect. The root of the problem is a lack of clarity from organisational policy makers. Many organisations still have rather nebulous hybrid working policies in place, allowing people to make their own choices about where and how to work. Managers have simply made choices that help them work effectively and manage the pressures they are under. If organisations want to shift these behaviours, they need to update their approach.

This doesn’t mean mandating office days for all. What it does mean, is clearly defining the role managers play in our new hybrid world – and giving them a blueprint for when they need to be present in person. The foundation of this is restating what the role of managers is in the organisation. Are they responsible for defining strategic goals? If so, where does that work get done? Are they responsible for coaching and motivating teams? If so, when, where and how do they do so? Are they taking the lead in managing workflow and performance? Where and how do they do so most effectively, and with which tools? Clearly defining these responsibilities not only makes it easier to understand when to join teams in the office, it will also help alleviate some of the pressures they are facing in roles that have morphed beyond recognition. And with such clarity, perhaps the commute won’t seem so bad.

This BBC Worklife article shares more on the role of managers. 

Find out more about how HSM Advisory can support your managers here.