A manager’s responsibilities include supervising the progress of their direct reports, assigning them tasks and helping them chart a path to success. But what if something significant happens in an employee’s life outside the scope of the job, like a major move or the birth of a child, that requires making accommodations to an employee’s schedule or workload?
That’s where empathetic and strategic manager communications come into play.
We spoke to several communicators with firsthand experience to learn what impacts managers can make during times of change — and how.
Manager comms matter
Managers usually interact with their reports every day, if not multiple times a day. Maintaining a personal touch in the communication from a manager to a report helps not only instill a sense of positive company culture and psychological safety but also builds trust that can be exercised when a major life event happens.
Erin Mantz, vice president of employee engagement at Zeno Group, remembers a time when she dealt with a significant medical event leading up to a major client meeting. When Mantz got in touch with her manager to check on the status of that meeting, her manager’s grace and kindness in the follow-up stood out.
“Back in those days it was a simple phone call and they told me, ‘Don’t worry, we’ve got this. Take care of yourself first.’,” Mantz said. “It wasn’t a big team so there wasn’t someone who had been in the weeds with me to hand it off to.”
Her manager reiterated that the main priority was her health and shared that the meeting ended up being a major success so Mantz didn’t feel left out, proving that a kind and personal touch can be meaningful personally and professionally.
The past few years have also empowered managers to rise to this empathetic charge. Associate professor of public relations and corporate communications and PR consultant Kerry O’Grady knew that when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, it was her responsibility as a leader of faculty members at her university to help guide fellow educators through the uncertain times. So she created a virtual community for faculty to onboard, learn, and maintain a sense of togetherness and support while working virtually.
This community shared everything from teaching tips, wellness opportunities both inside and outside the university, and thoughts on what to do if someone tested positive for the virus.
“It was important that my team knew I saw them as people, as well as instructors,” O’Grady said, “and that not only was I going to try to make their professional lives easier, but that they could lean on me as humans I cared about throughout this difficult time.”
“I think the most frequent phrase I used at work from 2020 through the fall of 2022 was ‘I’ve got you.’”
The importance of resources and strategy
While a great manager will know how to support their employees as the people they are, they’ll need the right resources in place to maximize that potential. A well-organized company intranet is a great place to store the policies and resources a manager needs to assist reports going through major life changes.
“Being able to bookmark and find certain pages and policies around different events, whether that’s bereavement leave, jury duty, or family leave, is important for a manager,” said Amanda Minto, senior director of internal communications, technology, experience, and product at Comcast.
The way a manager approaches these situations is also of critical importance. According to Steph Lund, CEO of M&C Saatchi Sport & Entertainment North America, a one-size-fits-all approach with respect to these major life events from managers isn’t going to cut it.
“Individual people have individual circumstances, and managers need to know that and act accordingly,” she said. “Keeping an honest, open line of communication with respect to both the personal and professional situation is the way to go.”
It’s also important that managers are coached on how to respond when a major life change impacts one of their reports. That way, they know their options and can act in a way that’s in the best interests of both the business and the employee.
“It’s important to listen to what the employee is really saying to you,” Minto said. “That way, managers can evaluate the options at hand and find the best way to provide support. You need to really hear them.”
Sean Devlin is an editor at Ragan Communications. In his spare time he enjoys Philly sports, a good pint and ’90s trivia night.