7 Ways to Build a Better Manager and Employee Relationship

Two young businesswomen having a discussion while looking at a laptop screen

Managers often have the largest impact on an employee’s workplace experience. They oversee an individual’s day-to-day responsibilities, help employees overcome challenges, and work to keep their team motivated and engaged. In fact, Gallup found that 70% of the variance in team engagement is determined solely by the manager. 

While some manager and employee relationships develop organically, some need a little help to form. This is especially true in an age when many managers and employees don’t work in the same location, time zone, or even country, making it harder than ever to build a connection.  

HR professionals are the architects of workplace dynamics. With the right touch, they can create a work environment where these kinds of connections can flourish and genuine relationships can grow. In this article, we share why manager and employee relationships are important as well as how HR professionals can help managers motivate their teams and build stronger connections with their direct reports.  

Why are strong manager and employee relationships important?  


When managers have the resources and organizational support they need, they can forge closer bonds with their teams and actually drive:  

  • Better teamwork: When managers and employees get along, they can benefit from enhanced trust, better communication, and seamless collaboration, allowing them to work together more efficiently. 
  • Higher retention: Strong manager relationships can boost loyalty and convince employees to remain with your company longer. 
  • Increased productivity: Employees with managers who assist them in establishing clear, achievable goals tend to exhibit higher productivity as they have clear performance expectations.  
  • Better communication: When employees feel comfortable approaching their manager with both problems and successes, communication flourishes.  
  • Higher engagement: Employees who feel connected to their managers may be more engaged in their work. 

With all these benefits and more, it’s in your business’ best interest to support your managers as they cultivate robust relationships with their employees. 

Ways to foster a stronger manager and employee relationship 


Wondering how your HR team can help foster the employee-manager connection? Here are some ways to empower managers with the training, resources, and initiatives they need to support their teams and nurture deeper relationships with their direct reports.  

1. Schedule regular facetime 

Managers should meet frequently with their employees to build rapport, clarify expectations, offer support, and more. Regular one-on-ones are the perfect time for people leaders to openly communicate with their teams, establishing trust and transparency in the process. To get the most out of one-on-ones, encourage your managers to ask employees to own the agenda for these meetings. That way, the employee can spend their time together focusing on whatever they need most, whether that’s getting questions answered, requesting feedback, discussing challenges, or solving problems.  

Of course, remind managers to leave some time for small talk. These casual syncs provide a great opportunity for people leaders to ask their employees personal questions and learn more about their lives outside of work. Even taking a few moments at the beginning or end of a call to discuss weekend plans or ask about family can help build closer workplace relationships. 

2. Give and receive feedback  

Feedback is a valuable part of professional growth and workplace relationships. It can help employees better understand their strengths and weaknesses, and help managers guide professional development and foster a culture of continuous improvement within the team.  

While these conversations can take place face-to-face or virtually in one-on-one meetings, many businesses offer performance management tools that make it easy for employees to request, give, and receive feedback from their managers, teammates, and cross-functional colleagues. This approach often gives employees more time to reflect on a manager or direct report’s strengths and areas of growth, allowing them to share more meaningful constructive feedback than they could if asked on the spot. 

Of course, giving feedback should also be a part of annual performance reviews. Just remember to train managers to embrace a continuous feedback model throughout the year so there are no surprises come review season.  

3. Set clear expectations and goals 

Goals are the foundation of any successful employee-manager relationship. They provide clarity and alignment and help identify coaching opportunities.  

As an HR professional, it’s your responsibility to train employees on how to set effective goals, whether that’s by using SMART goals, objectives, and key results (OKRs) or another popular goal-setting framework. In fact, employees who have clear objectives understand what’s expected of them and what they need to do to succeed. Unfortunately, one in three employees said their manager did not establish challenging but attainable goals for them.  

How can HR teams help? Introducing goal-setting software can hold your managers and their employees accountable for not only setting goals, but also for tracking their progress and evaluating success. Plus, it can tie employee goals to larger organizational objectives so individuals can see how their work contributes to business success.  

Of course, business priorities and available resources change, so remind managers to discuss goals, monitor progress, and identify and resolve roadblocks frequently so there are no surprises at the end of the goal-setting period. This gives managers and their employees time to adjust targets, update goals, and change objectives as business needs and resources evolve.  

Goals are the foundation of any successful employee-manager relationship. They provide clarity and alignment and help identify coaching opportunities. 



4. Recognize employee contributions and achievements 

Employees want to know when they’re doing well and managers need the right tools to recognize their teams. Your organization can empower managers to celebrate their teams through initiatives like implementing employee recognition software, allocating budgets for rewarding notable accomplishments, and dedicating time during company-wide meetings to showcase employees and their achievements. This can help your managers build a culture of appreciation and celebration.  

5. Invest in professional growth 

Employees value growth opportunities. In fact, 86% of employees said they would change jobs if they were offered more opportunities for professional development. In order to retain top talent and keep high performers growing, your team needs to make managers aware of your company’s internal growth opportunities. These could be personal growth stipends, internal training programs, job shadowing or mentorship programs, and stretch assignments. If managers don’t know about these programs, they can’t push their teams to take advantage of them, so be sure to advertise these initiatives often.  

Another of the many hats a manager wears is that of a coach. Unfortunately, career coaching isn’t a skill that comes naturally to many people. As an HR team, be sure to offer regular training to both new and existing managers on common coaching principles, techniques, and effective communication so they can help their employees reach the next level of their careers. 

While it’s no small project, your HR team should also invest in creating detailed career paths for different departments and job families. Competency-based career paths can take the guesswork out of job advancement and make it easier for your people leaders to understand how their employees can laterally or vertically grow within your organization. This can also help your managers become better coaches as they can more easily evaluate employees’ current skill levels, pinpoint experience gaps, and guide them toward acquiring the qualifications needed for their next role. 

6. Encourage work-life balance 

When it comes to work-life balance, you should remind managers to lead by example, whether that’s taking time off, not replying to messages while on vacation, or sending emails exclusively during work hours. Of course, your business can also help by implementing policies that promote balance, such as offering flexible hours, work from home days, and generous time-off policies.  

By championing a culture of healthy work-life balance, managers can empower employees to put themselves first. This support encourages individuals to take the breaks they need, ensuring they return to work rested, relaxed, and ready. Furthermore, it strengthens the manager and employee relationship by fostering a mutual understanding and commitment to well-being. 

By championing a culture of healthy work-life balance, managers can empower employees to put themselves first. This support encourages individuals to take the breaks they need, ensuring they return to work rested, relaxed, and ready.



7. Build a positive and inclusive culture 

Lastly, managers can strengthen their relationships with employees by building an inclusive team culture. Creating a supportive work environment can encourage employees to speak freely and, more importantly, be themselves. HR teams can help in this endeavor by training managers on how to mitigate bias, avoid microaggressions, and practice inclusive leadership. These skills can help managers embrace diversity and ensure every individual on their team feels seen, respected, and valued.  

Support your managers with UKG Ready 


Your managers can’t pour from an empty cup. They need to be supported and have the right resources and training to lead successful teams — but this can be a challenge for smaller organizations. With an all-in-one HCM solution like UKG Ready®, your HR team can streamline your managers’ day-to-day responsibilities so they can spend more time being coaches and mentors to their teams.   

Looking to empower your people leaders? Take a product tour of UKG Ready and give your managers more time to foster strong relationships with their employees.