Relationships between managers and employees are tense — COVID is to blame

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Managers and employees have had to forge new relationships and ways of communicating remotely during the coronavirus pandemic. But these changes have left many employees wanting more from their workplace leadership.

A new survey by payroll services company Paychex found that 20% of employees and 54% of managers think their relationships have worsened since the start of the pandemic. One-third of employees communicate with their manager less than when they were working in-person.

Read more: Bad managers are costing employers their workforce

“Managers have a profound impact on the well-being of employees,” says Laura Hamill, chief people officer at Limeade, an employee engagement company. “We know that our feelings about work can play a huge role in our overall quality of life — it can be a main source of stress or something that brings purpose to our lives.”

The isolation of working remotely has led to these feelings of disconnect: Paychex found that more than half of employees reported feeling isolated during COVID. Pre-COVID, managers were meeting with employees an average of ten times per month — during the pandemic, that frequency was reduced to six meetings per month.

Employee loneliness has been a challenge for organizations during the pandemic. Lonely employees are less satisfied with their jobs and were more likely to quit their current position, according to a study by BetterUp, a mobile coaching platform. Isolation can lead to other mental health challenges like anxiety, depression and burnout.

“Employees feel overwhelmed — they don’t have the attention span and efficacy in their jobs and are not performing at their best,” says Curtis Christopherson, CEO of Innovative Fitness, a personal training and wellness club that works with businesses to provide virtual health and fitness sessions. “Because we’re home and isolated now, we’re working a lot more and spending time in front of technology. The thing that’s suffered is health and wellness.”

Read more: WFH loneliness is the latest virtual challenge for employers

While communication has been reduced during remote work, the quality of those interactions has improved, leading to more meaningful relationships. Sixty-six percent of employees said they received honest feedback from their managers, and 67% say their managers have good communication skills, Paychex found.

Employees have also noticed their managers have implemented new positive habits during the pandemic: 48% reported their manager has offered more encouragement than before, and 32% say they’ve received emotional support during COVID.

Managers play a huge role in boosting employee productivity and morale, says Courtney Bigony, director of people science at 15Five, a performance management software provider.

“Increasing positivity starts with the managers themselves. Resilience is the ability to navigate adversity and grow in the face of challenges,” Bigony says. “Gratitude, understanding their employees’ strengths, self-compassion, self-awareness — businesses at an organizational level can not only survive but can actually come out even stronger.”

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Employee communications Employee relations Paychex