Most employees don’t feel adequately supported by their managers
October 19, 2020
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Weekly one-on-one meetings between managers and employees are the answer, according to a new 15Five 2020 Workplace Report.


Image: iStock/cihatatceken

Navigating employee evaluations and just general meetings between supervisors and their reports became a good deal more challenging when most businesses went remote in mid March, in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19. In the scramble to make the quick adjustment to the new normal, companies focused more on maintaining productivity and that the tech for telecommuters was properly set up so. Employees need to be properly connected and able to take Zoom meetings. 

More than half-a-year in, offices have developed a groove and have long grown accustomed to work life during a pandemic. However, work relationships have suffered, between colleagues, and moreover, between employees and managers. A new report, “15Five’s 2020 Workplace Report Achieving Organizational Success Through Effective Managers,” surveyed 750 full-time US managers and 750 US independent contributors to understand how those in the workforce are feeling in a time of uncertainty. 

15Five, a management solution company, found three main concerns:

  • Managers believe they are much better at managing than direct reports do.
  • They don’t have the right tools and habits to do their job effectively.
  • These issues negatively impact organizations. 

Each of these issues, 15Five concluded, can be addressed with one solution—frequent one-on-one meetings. Ongoing regular meetings with direct reports increases managers’ effectiveness, and the “effectiveness of staff and the entire company.”

SEE: COVID-19 workplace policy(TechRepublic Premium)

Managerial struggles

Managers deal with their own stress as well as coaching their employees through theirs, and the added responsibilities of creating a cohesive team amongst a dispersed workforce is a challenge.

Managers are having a more-than-usual difficult time doing their jobs during the pandemic (65%), with senior-level managers even more so (76%); 70% of managers are trying to support teams with five or more reports and report they are spread too thin. Comparatively, 53% of independent contractors are more challenged than they were before the pandemic.

About 85% of managers believe they’re giving independent contributors the support they need right now, but only 69% of independent contractors feel adequately supported by managers.

Managers (74%) definitely feel more connected when they have one-on-ones with their reports, but independent contractors disagree (less than 50%).


Image: 15Five

Managers want to be more helpful: 44% report they’d like more guidance in managing staff and coaching, and more than half (52%) want to develop better interpersonal skills to help communicate and work.

Today’s power skills are yesterday’s “soft skills” and essential for managers to master:

  • Emotional intelligence
  • Empathy
  • Listening
  • Coaching
  • Collaboration
  • Tactfulness 
  • Strategic day-to-day practices
  • Create an environment (even virtual) where employees feel it safe to speak up, take risks and grow beyond their role.

The best solution: Regular one-on-ones

David Hassell, CEO and co-founder of 15Five, is quoted in the report as having said, “One-on-ones are an essential management practice, especially with remote or dispersed teams.”  

Most managers (74%) find regular one-on-ones very or extremely helpful in supporting their direct reports, but for this to be effective the meeting must be held frequently and with regularity.  Regular one-on-one meetings make 82% of independent contributors feel they get the support they need during the pandemic from their managers, compared to 66% of independent contributors with less frequent interactions.

Big benefits

The major benefits of one-on-one meetings: They offer uninterrupted time together, build trust, drive accountability, support development, and resolve issues as they arrive. Weekly one-on-ones also makes employees feel more comfortable bringing up problems and tough issues with their managers (83%), compared to 72% of independent contributors.

These tête-à-têtes motivate employees to go beyond their role (73% for weekly meetings, 64% for less frequent ones). Weekly one-on-one meetings inspire 72% of independent contributors, but inspire considerably less, 55%, who have infrequent one-on-ones. An employee’s contributions are acknowledged and they understand their contributions toward the company achieving goals: 85% with weekly one-on-ones and 76% with infrequent meetings. Turnover is reduced too, perhaps due to the confidence gained with weekly meetings.

Regular one-on-one meetings help employees feel seen, heard, and valued. Independent contributors with at least weekly one-on-ones are more likely to feel like their manager trusts them to do their job well. On the managerial side, knowing your staffs’ workload allows the manager to gain greater insight and understanding of how their employees handle their work or where they need additional support and guidance. 

Managers learn about their employees through one-on-one meetings including their primary goals, challenges, and unique strengths, making managers better equipped to offer useful feedback, show recognition, and gauge the type of support their employees require.


Image: 15Five

Tips to master one-on-ones

15Five suggests the following day-to-day practices that deliver transparency, accountability, and high-quality feedback.

Director of 15Five’s Best-Self Academy Jeff Smith shared his advice for conducting better quality one-on-ones.

  • Prepare beforehand, review notes from past meetings, and the employee’s commitments, strengths, motivations, and preferences. Know their current projects.
  • In the moment, because it’s obvious when you’re not. Don’t check email or instant message, that becomes more important than the person you’re talking to. 
  • Be positive, effective managers often express that they value their people and their contributions. Acknowledge meaningful progress on your employees’ work, and encourage them.

SEE: Don’t let remote work be an innovation killer (TechRepublic)

Smith suggests asking employees the following weekly:

  1. How are you… really?
  2. What’s going well?
  3. What have you learned?
  4. Anything else? 
  5. Notice and take notes on the individual’s whole life, not just their work life.

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