Give managers staff to manage (editorial)

Editor's Notes
John Hobel
During downsizing in the early ’90s many organizations thought they could do without middle managers. Today it seems companies can’t find enough for them to do.

As our front page story details, managers are being expected to play a vital role in handling people issues. But it’s a responsibility they are often unprepared for or have little time to carry out. And when they do get it right, rewards and recognition are often scant.

There’s also a shortage of management talent in many organizations, so firms are paying attention to development needs. Training will help managers perform an ambitious list of tasks, from providing expertise in their fields to managing people and their problems to executing strategy. And improving compensation and recognition, as well as work-life balance, will address the need to reward managers for their workloads. But employers can really help managers by giving them the staff resources they need to get the job done.

Too many organizations have a phobia about the word “head count.” Tasks are added, but people aren’t. Overtime, freelancers and temps are preferred over additional full-timers.

In some cases vacant positions are not promptly filled, and managers are busy juggling staff, doing jobs themselves and rushing to put out fires rather than attacking goals.

Where turnover is a problem, managers spend an inordinate amount of time with recruitment and selection, and then with new employee training. When jobs are vacant or new people being trained, the manager and staff must also work harder to maintain productivity.

So if employers really want to show support for managers, placing a priority on retention and staffing is a good place to start.

Just as managers are essential for organizational success, skilled and motivated staff are essential to a manager’s success. Companies need to retain the key people in teams who link with managers to ensure that productivity and quality targets are met and deadlines achieved.

Inadequate staffing (and the increased workload it brings) is a contributor to managers’ stress and workplace mental health issues. Also noted on the cover of this issue is the launch of the Business Year for Addiction and Mental Health. By ensuring proper staffing levels and manageable workloads, employers will go a long way toward ensuring managers don’t burn out, taking their expertise with them and wasting the time and resources invested in their development.

A policy of “all the staff needed to get all jobs done, and done well,” will also create more slack time for managers. This is time managers can use to focus on new opportunities, re-evaluate and re-engineer processes, make quality improvements and apply innovation to the workplace. And still get home in time for dinner.

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