Why might line managers not check in with their people?

Before Christmas, I was intrigued by a McKinsey report which cited survey data that 40% of supervisors didn’t reach out to their team members to ask the simple question “how are you doing?” during the pandemic. Link to the original report is here: Talking about complex feelings at work

A plethora of smart and thoughtful people from my network weighed in on what might be the underlying root causes behind this data point and here’s a precis of what they shared (all errors and omissions my own):

Empathy is lacking in some managers/leaders – in some cases this is a “skill” issue – because a) they see a very clear separation between work and self, so it wouldn’t necessarily occur to them to ask or b) they have entered managerial ranks without understanding the concept of people management and their role within it or c) they have a predilection for “fixing” problems and given these problems are often messy and complex, aka, difficult to fix, it’s easier to avoid. This builds on other perspectives that the lack of empathy is more of an emotional “will” issue – supervisors avoid engaging in a more personal conversation or “human matters” because they fear saying the wrong thing or being faced with an emotional response. Others pointed out that many of us haven’t been at our best last year– thus supervisors maybe lacked the inner capacity to care for others particularly if their own security whether job, health, family was under threat. A further thread on this front was the observable increase in basic, task oriented communications when working virtually, particularly in organisations where process orientation is dominant. It seems harder for some to engage personally and humanely in a virtual environment, so it’s just easier to stick with the practical task oriented facts.

And we had some nice suggestions on the behaviours that matter:

The importance of role models: let’s seek out and celebrate role models who always make time to understand before striving to be understood and those who genuinely care for people.

Everyone has a part to play, not just supervisors: remembering that whilst we are all living in a pandemic, our individual experiences of it may be radically different. Everyone has it in them to reach out and ask the question “how are you doing?” irrespective of title, seniority etc.

Caring for our people has always been important, in the present climate, we’ve seen a real difference in leaders who have stayed connected, who make time to regularly check in with people. Ask them how they’re feeling. Ask them what’s on their minds. Ask them how they can be supported and listen, listen, listen. While we can’t solve all problems, the experience of being fully listened to has incredible impact.

Others have been facilitating internal “daring dialogues” within teams to help them deal with a variety of human issues that lurk beneath the surface and cause fallout.

Thanks dear colleagues for all your perspectives!