What employees expect from managers, according to real employee feedback

Written by: Aurélie Michaud | Illustrated by: Raff Labrie
Published on: November 22, 2021 |  Reading time: 7m
Aurélie Michaud headshot

This article was researched and written by Aurélie Michaud, a Data Scientist at GSoft, Officevibe’s parent company.

Only 55% of employees claim to strongly trust their manager, and just 1 in 3 feel that their manager fully understands their day-to-day reality.

Officevibe’s employee Pulse Survey database

When we came across these statistics, we wanted to investigate where that disconnect comes from. In Officevibe’s employee survey software, follow-up questions prompt employees to share anonymous feedback explaining their responses in more detail. So we analyzed over 140,000 anonymous feedback messages from employees across the world, to better understand what these real employees expect from their managers.

One of our biggest findings is that better manager-employee relations come down to one simple thing: the manager being a part of the team.

Employees expressed that when their manager acts as an outsider from their team, and not a real member, it becomes a barrier to building a fully trusting and understanding relationship.

Keep reading to get a full picture of the connections we uncovered. Plus, how you can apply these learnings to your own management style.

Understanding employee challenges

Between project management, improving team alignment, working toward business objectives, managing up, and staying connected with other team leaders, managers have their hands full. And this means that being fully aware of their team members’ pain points can be difficult.

1 in 5 employees are not convinced that their manager understands the challenges they face at work.

Officevibe Pulse Survey data

In the anonymous feedback messages we analyzed on this point, many employees expressed feeling like their manager did not have the time or interest to get a clear view of the struggles they faced in their everyday work. While managers likely want to be present with their team members, employees may not perceive these intentions. Often all they see is a manager who’s “too busy.”

Manager participation in team discussions

For employees who don’t feel their manager is aware of their challenges at work, the problem is often rooted in a lack of communication. But most of the employee feedback messages asked for more presence from the manager in the day-to-day life of the team, rather than more frequent one-on-one meetings. Many employees expressed that they did not really crave a more privileged personal relationship with their team leader. Instead, they wished that their manager was more involved in daily group conversations.

In other words, employees expressed that the best way managers can support them is by being present to listen to them during team discussions. And, as one employee put it, it’s not only about being present, but also showing interest:

 “He is not here and, when he is, he is running around between meetings. During meetings with the team, he is often distracted and doesn’t pay attention to what is being said.”

An anonymous Officevibe user

Better communication, more understanding

For those who do feel like their superior understands their reality, the manager’s presence within the team was key, too. This came down to better visibility. Employees felt like their manager being embedded in the team made them more aware of the roadblocks each person faced. They also indicated that this dynamic successfully promoted mutual understanding.

Employees often mentioned the need for ongoing conversations in their responses. So it was without surprise that we found a 53% correlation between how aware of employee pain points managers are, and how satisfied employees are towards the frequency of their communication with their manager.

The more often managers communicate with their teams, the more likely they are to understand their challenges. Many Officevibe messages put it simply: presence in the team leads to visibility, and visibility leads to better understanding.

Product shot of the Feedback Messaging feature in Officevibe
Turn anonymous employee feedback into a two-way conversation with Officevibe’s employee feedback tool.

Supporting transparency and building trust

At this point, we were convinced that the embedment of managers within their teams could promote better communication and visibility of team challenges. And, our analysis revealed that having the manager be part of the team could have even deeper benefits.

Employees whose managers participate in the team’s daily lives feel that they receive more organizational information and updates.

This nurtures the feeling that their manager is transparent with them. Time and time again in the feedback, it appeared that employees whose managers are keeping them “in the loop” felt more valued and trusted. This creates a better employee-manager relationship. One employee explained:

“My direct manager shares by default any challenge or concern that he has. It happens on a daily basis, and it creates the right atmosphere and true feeling that anyone on the team has the ability to impact and make a change.”

An anonymous Officevibe user

A sense of fairness and equality

We were also struck by another point that was made by several employees in their Officevibe feedback. Team communication creates a sense of equality and fairness on the team. When a manager shares news with the entire team, employees know that they’re given access to the same level of information as their peers. This one aspect was key for many survey respondents.

The fear of being left out or disadvantaged compared to colleagues is a source of distrust and disengagement for workers. Managers can ease this by favoring team communication.

This is not to say that employees don’t value their one-on-one meetings with their manager—these are still essential to effective manager-employee communications. But when it comes to information sharing and visibility, employees want to feel that their manager is being fair and the entire team is treated equally.

The power of sharing

The good news for managers is that when they offer visibility to their team, they will likely also get it in return. In fact, we found a 69% correlation between a manager’s perceived transparency and their perceived openness to employee opinions. In other words, employees who find their manager to be transparent also feel that they’re welcome to share what’s on their mind.

By being a real member of their team, managers can foster a dynamic of mutual trust. It helps to keep the conversation going with their team members, and welcomes upward feedback from employees. Employees feel trusted to receive information, and they also feel more inclined to share their own ideas—it’s a win-win!

Do you struggle with how to communicate important information to your team? Try our 4-step framework for communicating change.

How can managers become a part of their team?

The results of our analysis on Officevibe anonymous feedback messages left no doubt that, for managers to have amazing relationships with their employees, they need to be more present with their team. But how can this be achieved?

How can team leaders increase their presence in the team and their involvement in conversations, without becoming micromanagers?

1. Frequent, informal team check-ins

First, it’s not about being present with the team at every hour of every day. That’s not what employees want, and it’s also not realistic for managers. Instead, employees who are satisfied with their manager’s role within the team often use the term “check-in” to describe the type of interactions they have with them. Frequent, informal 5-minute conversations with the team appear to be the most effective approach for staying involved, without being too involved.

2. Facilitating two-way communication

How managers approach these quick chats is also key. What employees expect from their managers are two-way conversations, where they get to share and receive information. We found that when managers simply ask for updates without disclosing any news from their side, employees are less likely to voice their opinions and to be honest with their manager.

This dynamic is founded in trust. To develop a trusting manager-employee relationship, employees need to feel that they are valued members of the team, and that their manager is not only interested in supervising their work. So when managers check in with their team, they should think about what valuable information they have to share in addition to discussing their team’s current work. When asked about what makes them trust their manager, one survey respondent said:

“She is open and shares things with me, so I feel comfortable being more open as well.”

An anonymous Officevibe user

3. Balancing conversations effectively

Finally, our study highlighted the importance of balancing the type of interactions managers have with their team members. Individual and sensitive subjects such as career development, personal feedback, and performance management should still be discussed in one-on-one meetings. But, when it comes to understanding the team’s reality and fostering transparency, presence in group rituals like daily stand-up meetings or virtual social hours truly makes a difference.

Employees expect a manager who’s their equal

When managers become more embedded in their teams, it can have a host of benefits. They’re able to better understand employee challenges, establish healthy levels of transparency, and ultimately, build trust with their teams. The trick is setting the right tone with their presence so it doesn’t trickle into micromanagement.

Key takeaways for managers:

  • Show up for team meetings, and be present and engaged.
  • Contribute to team discussions without always having the ‘final say’.
  • Increase your information sharing and share big news in a group setting.
  • Make room for two-way communication with your team members.
  • Reserve time for private, individual conversations with employees.