Employee Engagement, Human Resources

Why unsupportive managers are holding your organisation back

Lydia Watson

Leading a team is hard. Mistakes are inevitable, and the ones people speak about the most relate to being too controlling. Micromanagement, not trusting employees to fulfill their duties, endless fatigue-inducing check-ins. But the other extreme is just as damaging.     

The trick is remembering that your employees are, first and foremost, just people. And that means they need support from their manager on multiple fronts – from encouraging their own career interests to protecting their wellbeing. Overlook that, and your organisation’s success is at risk.

What does a lack of support look like? 

If you’re managing a team or overseeing people who do, it can be easy to overlook unsupportive behaviours – because we’re all guilty of them, now and again:

  • Cancelling meetings, or not showing up at all
  • Being unnecessarily critical of work done
  • Not backing their professional development
  • Being closed off to ideas and suggestions

It might not seem like the stakes are that high. But these actions all lower employee engagement, and negatively impact your organisation.

4 things unsupportive managers do to your organisation

1. They lower engagement

If you have regular meetings with your team, they’re 3x more likely to be engaged – highest if there’s some form of daily communication, digitally or otherwise. Unsupportive managers push people not just away from them, but from the organisation as a whole.

2. They make employees leave

Retention is always going to be an issue. But if you don’t provide professional support specifically, you’re making an even bigger problem for yourself. And don’t be mistaken – employees are aware of this. 65% think they can make the most of this in salary negotiations and, if you’re not supporting them, then they’ve no excuse not to. 

3. They reduce revenue 

It all comes down to the bottom line. Disengaged, mistreated, frustrated employees just don’t work as hard – but if you support them properly, providing them with everything from technical advice to equipment, then they could actually help to lower costs and boost profits.

4. They impact customer satisfaction

Unsupported employees don’t provide good customer service. And while you can hire new staff, a bad reputation from your customer base is much harder to correct – and could be devastating for your business.

Why employee support needs a holistic approach

So if the primary function of a manager is to support their team, what does that look like? It’s easy to know what not to do, but what more can you do besides avoid those behaviours? The key is thinking about employee support holistically. Their career, personal circumstances, skills, and daily experience all matter – and you need to address them all.

Recommended survey: our Support deep dive

You need to know how supported your employees feel, and the only way you can is to ask them directly. But when speaking negatively about their manager feels like telling tales, you need to offer a safe and constructive space for feedback. That’s why we offer our Support Deep Dive:

1. Technical Support

These questions focus on the technical side of support – including managers having the capability to offer help directly, if they offer practical feedback and advice, and if employees feel they’re given a good level of coaching.

Where you might be going wrong: 87% of managers wished they’d had more training before 

leading a team, and a considerable 44% felt unprepared for that responsibility. If you’re promoting or hiring staff into managerial roles just on the basis of their specialist skills, make sure they know the importance of sharing that knowledge with their team.

2. Pastoral Support

These questions look at support from a more personal perspective, in terms of protecting the wellbeing of employees and making them feel comfortable at work. It investigates whether people feel like their manager is there for them, in terms of their emotional needs.

Where you might be going wrong: old school leaders might strongly believe that personal problems should be ‘left at home’, but that’s just not realistic – especially for remote workers. Overlooking employee wellbeing costs your organisation money and impacts productivity, so it’s a problem that 30% of employees feel they can’t approach their manager about wellbeing. 

3. Career Support

These questions are all about your employees’ career progression and professional development. They’re asked to understand if managers are seen to be invested in their team’s development, whether they find them development opportunities, and if they generally coach them to succeed.

Where you might be going wrong: 42% of employees see learning and development as the top driver of deciding where to work, so overlooking this area would be a grave mistake. It’s easier for leaders to be distracted by the organisation’s performance and their own career, but the secret to a high-performing team is supporting everyone to progress.

4. Priorities & Issues

These questions are focused on the day-to-day workload of employees, and whether managers help people both to prioritise certain tasks and address any issues that arise. It also looks at how the team operates, and if workloads are distributed evenly.

Where you might be going wrong: burnout might seem like an extreme outcome, but it’s called the ‘daily grind’ for a reason. Don’t neglect the daily and weekly experiences of your people. If each week ends with a wry ‘hopefully we’ll have a quieter one next week!’ then you need to address the pressure you’re putting on people

Qlearsite Employee Feedback Platform: a faster way to listen and react

  • Ready-made question sets

  • 15-minute survey set-up

  • Instant insights after closing

  • Context from language analysis


It’s time to start the conversation

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