HR Update: Building a Strong “Front Line”
November 1, 2021

By Sue Winkler, Director of Client HR Services

This month, we begin sharing monthly articles written by our Client HR Service Team focused on HR topics and people strategies to drive your business forward. This article is the first in a series of articles that will tackle what some are calling The Great Resignation. However, we prefer to call this time The Great Retention and focus on the positive strategies that companies can implement to retain and engage their talent and strengthen their team.

Nearly every organization I have talked to is concerned about retaining their talent. This has been a top priority for CEOs and organizational leaders for years. Now add to the mix more than 18 months of uncertainty, new concerns over safety, figuring out hybrid workforces and a labor pool that is unpredictable. That’s a combination that makes it even more challenging for employers to attract and retain the talent they need.

Build a Strong “Front Line”

The first area of focus is to build a strong front line by investing in your managers. Managers are often promoted because they excelled at the skills required for the role they now supervise. And they are just as likely to struggle with stress and worry as non-management employees. Managers are the stewards of a company’s most important resource, yet a report by Gallup revealed that only 33% of managers are engaged.

Some people have a natural talent for managing others, while many need to be taught. We have heard for years that employees join great companies but leave poor managers. The impact of this has been felt in the past but wasn’t always recognized or prioritized since many companies expect a certain amount of turnover. But the game has changed because employees are leaving in record numbers. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported just a few weeks ago that August set another record with almost 4.3 million Americans quitting their jobs.

Building a strong front line puts you on offense. Survey after survey shows that managers are directly related to retention and engagement. And they are often charged with implementing efforts to engage employees and keep productivity high. But managers are employees too and can be overlooked when it comes to retention efforts. Managers are expected to be role models, but if they are frustrated, burnt out or disengaged, how can they be expected to lead and positively impact those who report to them?

The good news is you can make a difference. Here are some considerations to help you recharge and support your managers:

Provide Soft-Skill Training   This is an area that is often forgotten about. Effective managers build trust, motivate their team to do good work, get people excited to work, clearly communicate, actively listen, and make good decisions. They need to be adaptable and resilient. Find the right resources and commit to training your management team.  

Take the Pulse of Your Managers   This can be done through informal but intentional one-on-one meetings or more formal engagement surveys that are focused on your managers and supervisors. Use the results to build strategies specific to your management team. It is critical that you follow up after gathering this information and provide feedback and action items to the group. If you don’t have time or can’t make follow-up a priority, do not go through this process.

Provide Well-Defined Policies That Your Managers Can Follow and Implement   Policies guide and support your managers’ decisions and provide consistency across the organization. It is critical to train managers on the intent and purpose of policies and on how to deliver the message.  Providing an HR partner to coach, oversee and support your managers will help ensure policies are consistently applied. Handling employee situations and providing employee feedback the right way can have a significant impact on the success of an employee, which can lead to higher engagement and retention.

Set Clear Expectations   The pandemic had an impact on performance reviews and many companies paused the process and are re-evaluating what’s important with this process. Performance feedback does not need to be long and complex. In fact, I believe short and simple is more effective. Today, managers need clear goals that include retention and engagement. Measuring the effectiveness of performance reviews can be done by assessing turnover of high-performers, absenteeism, promotions and productivity.

Provide Recognition   Everyone wants recognition, and managers are no different. A recent study by Deloitte showed that companies that have a recognition program experienced 31% lower voluntary turnover. As you consider developing a program to recognize your managers’ achievements, keep in mind the keys to recognition — be sincere, make it meaningful, offer it frequently, personalize it.  

Understand That It’s Been Difficult   Managers feel caught in the middle when they are expected to energize their people while feeling stressed and overwhelmed. They need to know that leadership gets it and that they are not in this alone. As leaders, we need to lead by example and demonstrate to our managers that they are valued, they are supported, and their role is important.  

Investing in your management group has never been more critical. They are the face of the company to employees, and they need our support and the right tools so they can successfully lead their teams. Strengthening and supporting the manager bench at your organization will pay dividends.

If you are interested in continuing the conversation or are interested in learning more about our Client HR Services and how we can help, please reach out at Learn more about Sue Winkler.

Compliance Corner

Have You Scheduled Your Anti-Harassment Training?   Illinois employers with at least one employee are required to conduct annual anti-harassment training. California, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, New York State and New York City also have training requirements. Even if not required, annual training is strongly recommended.

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