10 Questions Great Managers are Asking Their Teams Right Now

Posted in Best Practice Research

by alicia

We've said it before and we'll say it again, managers are the key to success.

Talented managers – those who drive productivity, engagement and retention in their team – contribute 48% higher profit to their companies than average managers, Harvard Business Review say.

Managers carry a huge burden of responsibility. And now more than ever, because team productivity, engagement and retention are under threat.

But our research shows many managers are missing the mark; not asking the right questions and leaving employees feeling unsupported, misunderstood, overburdened and frustrated.

Here are ten questions managers should be asking.

1 – How are you feeling?

What’s going on for you? What’s your personal bigger picture? How can I help? 

68% of employees say their manager hasn’t asked how they’re feeling during COVID-19 - despite 75% of managers feeling confident they understand how their teams feel.

That’s a damaging assumption.

Within the overarching oh-crap-there’s-a-global-pandemic feeling, there’s likely heaps more going on for your team. Nuances and complexities.

Like maybe Jackie’s long-estranged stepfather’s got coronavirus symptoms and she’s battling complex emotions about reconciliation.

Or maybe Andy’s had a resurgence of decades-hidden privacy anxiety over the tracing app.

Or Lucinda hasn’t told you she’s broken up with her partner, so she’s now living alone and doesn’t talk to anyone outside work.

The point is, you don’t know what your people are dealing with. Invite them to confide, so you can give them an empathetic ear and a nod towards the right resources.

2 – When can we chat more?

Can we schedule regular catch-ups? How can I make myself more available?  

Great communication matters more than usual in a crisis. But our research showed communication is a major struggle for most managers:

48% of employees have had fewer manager catch-ups during COVID-19 than usual – and 56% say remote working has made communicating with their manager harder.

In particular, employees said they’re finding it hard to schedule time for catch-ups, especially to ask smaller questions. Some expressed feeling guilty for bothering their manager.

Long-term that’s likely to drive disengagement, damage productivity and cause turnover.

Nobody likes to think they’re a bad boss. The fact is though, one in two employees have quit a job to escape a bad manager.

You might be busy, stressed and lacking confidence in your remote leadership skills. But if you don’t step-up your communication game, you risk becoming the boss you never thought you’d be.

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3 – Do you know where to get support?

Do you know what our company is doing to help? What else do you need?

Your business probably (hopefully!) already does plenty to support employees. Workplace mental health and wellbeing has exploded globally, with wide recognition that wellness programs improve productivity, reduce absenteeism and increase engagement.

For example, RAND Health find that 91% of US employers with more than 50 employees offer corporate wellness benefits.

That support is even more important right now – and more employees are likely to need it, including people who’ve never needed it before. Don’t assume your team know what support they can access, and how.

Remind your team about relevant policies and the processes to access support. And ask what else they really need – the senior leadership team are likely be receptive to any ideas to safeguard employee engagement right now.

4 – Do you understand the business' bigger picture right now?

Do you know how you contribute? What unanswered questions do you have? What ideas can you share? 

How well employees understand and connect with company goals is a major driver of employee performance, Gartner say.

That’s especially true right now, as many employees feel uncertain about the business’ future and their role in it.

Ease your team’s uncertainty as best you can. You might not have all the answers but be transparent. Pass down any info from on-high and pass up any questions you can’t answer.

Push senior leaders for information about strategy and performance, if it’s not readily available. And if the business is facing challenges, don’t draw the shutters: involve your team.

You never know where a fantastic idea could come from. And at the very least, asking for input shows you value their ideas.

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5 – Do you have everything you need to be productive?

What is your biggest challenge right now? What skills do you wish you had? What tools would make your life easier? 

Your team can’t perform at their best if they don’t have the right kit for the job. Or the right skills to use the kit.

  • Maybe Lucy can’t get her head around Zoom and she feels stupid and embarrassed.
  • Or Pav doesn’t have the document access he needs. Continually making requests and waiting for approval slows him down and stresses him out.
  • Or redundancies mean Zack’s writing marketing emails for the first time and he’s panicking because his emails have low open and click-through rates.

Ask questions to assess technology, equipment and skills gaps in your team – so you can plug them, before they have a negative impact on morale and performance.

Imagine how supported Zack would feel if you enrolled him in an online email copywriting course, for example. Likewise, if you set Lucy up with the Zoom whiz-kid on your team for a quick walkthrough. Or gave Pav temporary admin access so he could work without interruption.

Most problems are easy enough to solve if you know what they are.

6 – How are you connecting with colleagues?

How often? How could we all connect more? What would be fun?  

When your team is dispersed, it’s harder to understand the team dynamic. You can’t instantly spot if Aaron’s peeved with Dana, or Xante’s retreated into her shell, so right now you’ll have to ask:

Who is talking to who, and when? Who is getting frustrated, and how can you help? Is the only time your team connect when you hold whole team Zooms?

These interpersonal relationships are integral to team cohesion – which is integral to productivity.

Keep your team connected by brainstorming ideas to take your offline culture online. Could you do virtual Friday drinks? Could you have an internal Zoom dress code (like we did…)

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7 - How well do you feel the company's handled all this?

Are you proud to work with us? Is there anything you would like us to fix? 

Employee engagement is on the line during a crisis. And – as we wrote last week – many companies are making mistakes.

The problem is, minor missteps can turn into major mishaps once the rumbling of discontent starts. The best intentions can be misinterpreted. What’s right for Louise might be totally wrong for Jon.

It’s crucial managers spot the early warning signs of an engagement problem, so you can turn things around before an engagement problem becomes a downwards-spiral turnover problem.

8 - How are you finding working remotely?

What do you love? What do you hate? What have you learned?  

54% of employees want to work remotely, either full- or part-time, after the COVID-19 dust settles.

That means you’ll need new processes to make flexible working work for the business, pronto. Especially if you’re one of the 38% that don’t currently have a remote working policy.

But the good news is, you’ve already done the hard bit – shoved into the deep end by coronavirus. So you’ve already got the data points to make remote working work.

Ask your team, what’s worked? What hasn’t worked? What have your bugbears been? How can the team do this better? What else can I do, as manager, to support you?

Answering those questions gives you a blueprint for the future.

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9 - What are you doing to look after yourself?

When do you take breaks? Can you switch off easily? How stressed are you? 

Employee burnout was a major issue before COVID-19.

Gallup say 23% of employees feel burned out at work very often or always. And another 44% say they feel burned out at least sometimes.

Burnt-out employees are 63% more likely to take a sick day, 2.6 times more likely actively seek a new job and have 13% lower confidence in their performance.

And right now, the issue risks becoming cataclysmic.

The problem is, the sudden shift to working from home makes work/life boundaries harder to define and maintain.

And most employees are juggling more in their personal lives, whether that’s home-schooling kids or grocery shops that are taking three times longer. It might be much harder than normal to maintain the same performance levels.

It’s a pressure-cooker – one that doesn’t bode well for the business long-term.

Help employees set robust boundaries: encourage regular breaks and fixed office hours – and out-of-office hours, to discourage overworking. Check-in regularly about employees’ stress levels and perception of their workload, to spot burnout before it escalates.

And set an example yourself. Don’t answer email out-of-hours. Don’t be on your phone 24/7.

10 - How are you feeling about returning to the office?

What are you worried about? What are you looking forward to? How can I help? 

With lockdown starting to loosen, many businesses are thinking about reopening offices in the not-too-distant future. But coming back to work isn’t as simple as returning from holiday.

The pandemic will likely have resounding after-effects, and your team will need support to get back into the swing of things.


Read more: Beyond COVID-19: What will the future of work look like? 

Some may struggle with post-traumatic stress. Some may have totally re-evaluated what’s important and need motivating in new ways. Some may need new skills to achieve the new things you’re asking them.

Don’t minimise or you put engagement, morale, productivity and retention on the line. Treat your team like new hires, onboarding them back into the post COVID-19 workplace.

Managers will be the deciding factor for how healthily businesses emerge from this crisis. Listen to our research – download the full report here – and be the manager your people need.