Give Them a Helpful Manager and They’ll Stay

It’s an oft-repeated truth that HR leaders are surely bored of hearing by now: Millennials are now the largest generational cohort in the workforce will soon make up a majority of all workers. They expect that will mean more job-hopping, more demands for free food and, before long, everyone will offer rooftop yoga at lunchtime to keep their employees engaged.

To better understand what this future may look like and how employers can engage all generations in their workforce, Qualtrics runs a bi-annual study of over 6,000 full-time employees around the world. As it turns out, in many ways millennials — and the Generation Z workers who are hot on their heels — are not all that different from the generations that preceded them.

On the surface, the data from the latest study supports many of those stereotypes. For example, workers under 25 have the highest rate of attrition with 26% saying they’re likely to leave in the next two years. That figure steadily drops as employees get older, leveling off at 15-17% after 34 years old.

But as we dig deeper with statistical analysis, career maturity has a bigger impact on attrition. Controlling for differences in age, what we actually find is that those earlier on in their tenure with a company are far more likely to leave than those who have been there for 3 or more years.

For baby boomers, millennials and Generation X those first 3 years in a company are crucial. This is when employees develop an understanding of their roles, establish how they contribute to the company’s objectives, and determine what their career development and trajectory look like.

Rather than reading too much into generational stereotypes, employers should consider what is impacting the employee experience in those formative years within the company in order to hold on to their best people.

Great managers create great employee experiences

Across every generation and every metric, the key driver that impacts the employee experience more than any other for better or worse are dominated by manager-employee relationships.

Good results in employee experience are not about broader company policies, free lunches and benefits packages, they are about the relationships between people who work closely together on a day-to-day basis. These relationships are essential to shaping personal and career development for employees.

Employees want a manager who helps with workload management

The study asked about the top three drivers of employee retention, and the leading reason was having a manager help with their workload. When managers step in to help people understand and manage their workload, they tend to be happier and stay with the company for longer.

Managers typically have years of experience behind them and know how to manage a workload — workplace stress peaks in young workers, with 33% of people under age 35 reporting stress. After age 45, workplace stress drops with around 20% of people saying they are stressed at work. Sharing that knowledge and experience with their teams – and helping people cope with the demands in their early years in the workforce – is essential to keeping employees engaged and preventing burnout.

Employees want the ability to try things out

Two other key drivers of workplace experience, regardless of age, are career development opportunities and the chance to try out new things in your role. There’s plenty of academic literature on why employees who are working towards a purpose with a clear progression path are more engaged and productive — and that comes through strongly in our data.

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In fact, we found that employees who feel like they have clear opportunities for career development are over three times more likely to be happy in their roles when compared to those with fewer opportunities.

Managers need to work closely with their teams to help develop their skills and find opportunities to try new things and grow within the company. If they don’t, employees will quickly become disengaged and begin to look elsewhere for the support and guidance they need to build their careers.

Managers need to recognize good work

When employees understand their employer’s expectations and see how their work contributes to the company’s goals, they’re much more likely to be engaged in their work. Managers play a key role in setting those expectations – not just in establishing objectives, but by recognizing the desired behaviors and output that help meet them.

Recognition for good work is essential in reinforcing expectations. If managers never give praise, how can their employees know they are doing the right things? Lack of recognition can have a devastating impact on engagement too – we found that people are 17 times less likely to be satisfied in their job if their managers don’t consistently acknowledge good work when compared to employees of managers who offer regular recognition.

This study provides a vital look at what’s most important to employees and what employers can do to improve the workplace experience. But perhaps most important is that as the workforce changes and the way we work and interact with our colleagues evolves, one thing will always be true — there’s no substitute for personal relationships.

Technology has a huge role to play and that role will only increase over time. That said, it’s essential to recognize that technology is most powerfully put into action as an enabler for developing important relationships, not taking their place. Employers that want to attract and keep the best talent should look to their managers as the change agents who will have the biggest impact on their teams. Better managers lead to happier, more engaged and productive employees, and company leadership should make sure managers have the resources they need to provide the best employee experience possible.

Mike Maughan specializes in helping organizations understand employee development and engagement strategies. He is part of the leadership team for the Employee Insights business at Qualtrics. Mike is the former Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Evergreen Development Foundation and worked as a law clerk on the 2012 Romney for President campaign. He has also served in a variety of positions focusing on third-world development and healthcare access in the developing world.

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