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Too Busy to Manage? Why a good Manager is worth her/his weight in Gold.

Updated on April 22, 2012

Too Busy to Manage?

I recently came upon a statistic that spoke volumes to me about the chaotic state of workplaces so often reported to me by my clients. A 2007 study by the Chartered Management Institute of Scotland found that only 5 out of 10 managers reported finding it easy to make time for their staff.

I’m sure if you’re a manager, you won’t be at all surprised to read that. Increasingly, it seems, managers are so tied up with meetings and administrative responsibilities that time with staff is relegated to the sidelines rather than as the top priority. In addition, a large majority of time managed with staff is often spent reactively on identified “problem staff” rather than equally spread out. I’ve frequently heard managers say they spend much of their staff time putting out fires rather than being able to build and enhance staff performance. Essentially what I hear them saying is that despite their title, they are not able to find time to manage.

There are huge costs to organizations when managers are kept too busy to manage and there are vitally significant reasons why managers need to build strong trust-based relationships with their people. Perhaps the most obvious one is that it is unrealistic to expect any group of people to function well together without structure, guidance, and support. Unmanaged or poorly managed employee relationships lead to increased risk of unresolved conflict (both between employees and between employees and the organization), and that conflict can lead to absenteeism, stress leaves, harassments suits, disability claims, and a variety of other expensive consequences. Absenteeism alone is estimated to cost $8.6 billion in Canada(The Health Communication Unit [online], The Case for Comprehensive Workplace Health Promotion: Making "Cents" of a Good Idea, date unknown). Employees who report interpersonal relations, job control, and management practices as sources of stress are more likely than others to be absent for six or more days (Health Canada, Canadian Fitness and Lifestyle Research Institute. Workplace Health System, no.3.1998)

These statistics don’t include the cost of “Presenteeism”, a relatively new term used to describe unmotivated, often disgruntled, employees who retire at work-essentially showing up but not producing. An article in Maclean’s (October 2007) quoted a report from Health Canada estimating that this costs Canadian employers 22 billion dollars a year!

There’s another very good reason why organizations benefit when employees enjoy close trust-based relationships with their managers. Would it surprise you to learn that according to both the Canadian Mental Health Association and the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), 1 in 5 Canadians will experience a form of Mental Illness over their life time and the remaining 4 will have a friend, family member, or colleague who does? That means people just like you and me at work are not only attempting to shoulder their work responsibilities but are also dealing with issues such as depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, personality disorders, and eating disorders. In addition, CAMH reports that an estimated 1 in 10 Canadians over age 15 exhibit symptoms of moderate to advanced alcohol or drug addiction, and 3.8% of adults in Ontario can be classified as having a moderate to severe gambling problem. Again, this is you and me-your co-workers. “Every day, 500,000 Canadians are absent from work due to psychiatric problems. Mental Health is the number one cause of disability in Canada, accounting for nearly 30% of disability claims and 70% of the total costs” (CAMH online citing the Insurance Journal, 2003). According to Statistics Canada, “$51 billion is the annual cost of mental illness and addictions to the Ontario economy” alone.

You’re reeling, I know, but remember; these figures don’t include other issues that employees routinely have to deal with as part of being human. Death of a loved one, the break-up of a relationship, parenting, taking care of older parents, relationship conflict, physical health issues… Can you see more and more the role that a manager can play in the health of an organization and why it is so vital that mangers are freed up to manage?

A good manager, one who knows his or her staff, and can prevent problems from escalating is truly worth his or her weight in gold. The very same study that I quoted at the beginning of this article referred to a study initiated by The Conference Board of Canada in 1999 that found “Employees who rate their managers as sensitive miss an estimated 3.7 days of work; whereas employees whose managers are rated as non-sensitive miss approximately 6.2 days of work” per year (McBride-King, J., and Buchmann, K.).

“Vancouver City Savings Credit Union - Vancity - has been repeatedly ranked among Maclean's Top 100 employers, in part because of an ingrained employee assistance program and management training in spotting employee problems before they reach a crisis” (Macleans, October 2007). Managers who kept watch for signs of stress demonstrated by bank tellers who had experienced a robbery and who instituted support for employees in the form of counseling programs had an enormous impact on employee well being and absenteeism. “In B.C., the average post-robbery absence per branch - as paid out by the Workers Compensation Board - is 62 days. In Vancity [in 2005] 17 of our 19 robberies had no days absent, says Ann Leckie, Vancity's Director of Human Resources. The other two robberies had an average absence of two days. Leckie does a quick calculation: That's 1,054 days not lost, she says. There's a big financial incentive to doing it right." (Macleans, October 2007). By any standards, that is truly phenomenal, and a tribute to a proactive employer and the benefits of sensitive management.

There is no replacement for time spent together when it comes to building the kind of relationships with staff that managers need to have in order to provide guidance, reassurance, direction, and support. Time and again you will hear that employees, more than any other reason, either stay with or leave their managers, not their jobs. The efficacy of a manager is based on the loyalty, commitment, and trust that he or she generates from his or her staff in the midst of all the emotional and physical issues we all face as humans. Employees need to be able to turn to their managers in times of conflict or personal crisis. The cost of their manager being too busy to be there for them far out weighs the benefit to the organization of that manager attending yet another meeting.

If you found this article interesting or even helpful, I'd appreciate it if you thanked me by clicking onto the Google ads on this page which will give me a tiny tip!


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    • Theo Selles profile image

      Theo Selles 5 years ago

      Thank you. That is kind and thoughtful of you to say.


    • profile image

      Eve 5 years ago

      Love the kindness and well thought out way you advise in honesty.