As we approach the one-year mark of the pandemic, American employees are feeling overworked and overwhelmed.

For the millions who have been working remotely since last March, they have hit a breaking point, leading to frustration and for many, even in the uncertain economy, a new job search. So what can employers do to retain their employees in 2021?

Engagement is key to employee retention, and according to Gallup, managers account for a 70 percent variance in employee engagement.

To uncover how companies can help managers excel, thus increasing employee retention, employee voice and recognition platform Achievers recently released its Manager Empowerment Report. The report surveyed 2,000 employed individuals across the U.S., Europe, Canada, and Australia to discover what makes an effective manager.

The report found 89 percent of respondents who would recommend their manager also reported being very engaged at work. However, despite the importance of effective management in keeping employees engaged, just over a third (37 percent) of managers actually received the training they needed to support their direct reports.

As employers begin to implement their 2021 hiring and retention strategies, how can they ensure the backbone of the organization — their managers — are supporting their employees and keeping engagement and retention numbers high?

1. Regular one-to-one meetings

Disengaged employees are three times more likely never to meet with their managers one-to-one, compared with highly engaged employees. Additionally, 96 percent of employees who would highly recommend their manager are satisfied with the quality and content of their one-to-one meetings, compared with just 41 percent of those who do not recommend their manager. Employees who would recommend their manager discuss the following areas during their one-to-one meetings:

  • Professional development (48 percent)
  • Recognizing recent achievements (41 percent)
  • Overall morale and engagement (40 percent)

While this doesn’t mean managers have to meet with their direct reports every day, a weekly routine helps to ensure the discussion is focused on these top areas, rather than just daily tasks. 

2. Frequent recognition

Employees who are recognized more frequently are more likely to recommend their managers. Thirty-six percent of employees recognized in the last week would recommend their manager, compared with just 15 percent who were last recognized three months ago, and 8 percent who were last recognized six months ago. Additionally, 40 percent of disengaged employees last received recognition more than a year ago.

These stats clearly show the importance of regular recognition in increasing employee engagement across every level of an organization. For employers looking to reach higher retention numbers this year, focusing on high-quality recognitions is a good starting point.

3. Leading with empathy

An empathetic manager is important in keeping employees engaged. Nearly all (97 percent) employees who would recommend their manager report feeling seen and understood as a person by them. Additionally, 90 percent of employees who would recommend their manager feel a strong sense of belonging at their company, and those with a strong sense of belonging are twice as likely to report being highly engaged.

Empathetic leadership involves investing in the individual contributors on the team and listening and acting on employee needs. However, if managers are not trained to understand how to recognize and respond to these needs, it can negatively impact employee engagement.

4. Leadership training

While one-to-one meetings, recognition, and empathetic leadership are all important, developing effective managers comes down to training.

“Managers are a critical line of defense in keeping employees engaged in the workplace,” said Natalie Baumgartner, chief workforce scientist at Achievers. “However, without training and development, how can leaders expect managers to address problems and exceed expectations as issues arise?”

Looking at key areas of leadership training for managers, less than half have received training from their employers to support their direct reports in the following areas:

  • One-to-one meetings (48 percent)
  • Coaching (42 percent)
  • Recognizing employees (38 percent)
  • Professional development (36 percent)
  • Strength-based management (30 percent)
  • Setting performance goals (27 percent)

“Helping managers become effective, empathetic leaders is crucial in attracting and retaining employees — particularly junior employees who often feel unseen and unknown,” said Baumgartner. “In 2021, employers must put a greater emphasis on manager training if they hope to increase employee engagement and create a positive work environment — whether remote or in the physical workplace.”