Great Managers = Great Workplaces. But They Need Our Support.

You’ve likely heard the oft-repeated phrase, “People don’t leave companies, they leave managers.” Here at the UKG Workforce Institute, we’ve long believed that adage to be true. But our new global study released this week — aptly titled “Great Managers = Great Workplaces” — uncovers just how true it is. 
We surveyed 4,200 workers across nine countries, including employees, managers, and members of the C-suite, to examine the real impact of people leaders on employee productivity and engagement, as well as other factors that help foster a great place to work such as trust, open communication, and caring for employees as individuals. 
What did we find out? Managers directly influence how employees perform in the workplace. About three in four employees (73%) say their manager’s support, encouragement, and/or leadership directly motivates them to go above and beyond in the workplace. More than a third of employees (37%) say having a good manager — one who’s accessible but doesn’t micro-manage — makes them feel the most productive at work. 
However, we also discovered that managers themselves are the most burned-out cohort in the workplace. Eight in 10 managers (86%) report experiencing some level of job burnout (i.e., work-related stress associated with physical and emotional exhaustion), including 30% who are experiencing “a great deal” of burnout at work. 
That’s higher burnout levels than employees (82%) and C-suite leaders (73%). Managers are feeling so crunched that nearly half (49%) of all people leaders we surveyed say they would even accept a pay cut to reduce their workload. 
It’s Tough Being a Manager — So Why Do People Do It? 
You may recall our 2023 Workplace Predictions, when we discussed how middle management was the most critical role in the organization but also the least desirable — what we deemed “The People-Leader Paradox.” Turns out, we were only half-right in our prediction. While a managerial role is still critical for business success, and it’s still challenging for organizations to recruit people into the position, most managers — 79% of the people leaders we surveyed — do actually enjoy the job once they’re in it, and they want to stay managers indefinitely, despite all the demands. 
Why is that? Lest you think it’s all about money, it’s not. A majority of people leaders are in it for the betterment of people: Our study found that 60% of managers chose the role because they “like to help others succeed.” That was the top-ranking response and cited as a greater motivator than higher compensation (54%), career progression (36%), or having additional power (24%). 
Moreover, most managers feel a greater sense of purpose to the role, viewing it as more than just a leadership position, but also an opportunity to have a lasting impact on employees’ careers and lives outside of work. According to our research, 88% of managers say they regularly mentor employees and help them advance in their careers, and 86% of managers believe they can talk to any of their direct reports or peers about work or personal issues. 
The Tangible Effects of Great Managers 
Burnout notwithstanding, the managers we surveyed are mostly happy to serve as people leaders. That happiness appears to have a positive ripple effect, as employees are overwhelmingly pleased with their people leaders, too. According to the study: 

  • 87% of employees say their manager trusts them. 
  • 79% of employees feel their manager supports their career goals. 
  • 75% of employees think their manager cares for and has empathy for them. 
  • 63% of employees believes their manager supports them as a whole person. 

Regarding open communication, which matters in fostering a great workplace culture, 59% of employees say their manager is approachable and easy to talk with, and most employees have regular conversations with their manager that motivate them — 19% chat daily and 35% weekly. (Longtime UKG Workforce Institute readers know we’ve long touted the numerous benefits of weekly 1:1s for managers and employees alike.) 
These positive employer-employee relationships help to produce more productive and engaged employees overall. For example, our study found: 

  • 93% of employees who say their manager trusts them also feel “Energized” — they genuinely enjoy work; are passionate about their career; care a lot about their company, co-workers, and/or customers; and are inspired to always go above and beyond without being asked. 
  • 84% of employees who say their manager supports their career goals also feel “Committed” — they like their work and care about their career; often put in additional effort to make sure they do a good job for their company, support their team, and/or serve their customers; and they’re happy to go above and beyond at work when needed. 

Managers Need Support to Be Great 
The best managers can make organizations the best places to work, but they cannot work miracles. Committing to building a great workplace for all means for every employee — including managers. Organizations continue to ask a lot of their people leaders, and if they expect managers to be the most effective in their roles, then organizations must get serious about supporting people leaders first. 
There’s a positive trajectory. Almost half (46%) of the C-suite leaders we surveyed say their companies currently offer training on people skills, performance management, and more in support of managers’ success. But there’s still plenty of work left to do, as that number needs to reach closer to 100% if we’re going to feel a real impact. 
Pat Wadors, chief people officer at UKG, has a great analogy for the situation — and anyone who’s flown on an airplane would recognize it. “Like the plane safety instructions about putting your own oxygen mask on first,” Pat says, “managers need the full support of their organizations in caring for themselves, in order to fully support their employees.” 
With so many managers feeling burned out at work, they’re in great need of a proverbial oxygen mask right now. It’s up to organizations to provide the necessary tools, technology, and resources that can help managers flourish, teams thrive, and businesses succeed. 
We ask a lot of managers every day, not the least of which is the actual management part of the role. It’s time we start fully supporting people leaders — to recognize just how much they matter to the organization, and to show just how much we appreciate them as people. 
To learn how to better support your managers, and every employee in your organization, download the UKG + Great Place To Work Culture Playbook to get a clear plan for building a people-centric culture of trust and belonging for all.