Building strong managers with an L&D lens

Learning and development can provide opportunities that help managers understand, accept and buy into their role in the employee retention process.

As we explore the key elements to improving employee retention rates, polls we recently conducted revealed how an employee’s direct manager is the person who is in the strongest position to positively affect employee retention, due to the fact that they have a lot of control and influence over many personal and emotional drivers that impact an employee’s stay or leave decision.

In our research, we asked two questions: One: Should managers be involved in the employee retention process (the results were overwhelming- the manager is crucial to employee retention!)? And two: How can organizations best improve the employee experience to improve retention? The chart below shows the results from respondents.

Next, we tried to ascertain whether managers had the people skills and soft skills required to effectively connect with employees, and have a positive impact on employee retention. 

Jacob Morgan recently ran a study in conjunction with LinkedIn that included more than 14,000 participants titled “How Leaders Overestimate Their Own Skills and Mindsets,” in which they examined how well leaders felt they were doing with respect to people, soft skills (such as coaching, empathy , recognition, etc.) compared to how employees felt their managers were doing with these same people, soft skills. The results showed:

  • When managers were asked how well they are doing, 69 percent said they are doing reasonably well.
  • When employees were asked how well managers are doing only, 39 percent said their managers are doing well.

These findings suggest some significant disconnects but also several questions: Do managers understand their role and how important these activities are? Do they have the skills necessary? If they have the knowledge and skills is there something preventing them from practicing regularly?

So, what can be done to close these gaps? Fortunately, learning and development can provide opportunities that help managers understand, accept and buy into their role in the employee retention process.

It’s important to note that a robust L&D strategy for managers requires support and ownership from senior leaders and company executives. They can also support managers by showing leadership skills by example, so these skills become normalized and ingrained within day-to-day behaviors.

Why is the manager-employee relationship important?

A strong manager-employee relationship is built on trust, respect and open communication. It is important that managers and employees understand each other’s roles and responsibilities, and that they are able to work together and help one another not only achieve the organization’s goals but also ensure that the employees work experience is rewarding and fulfilling. Additionally, a strong manager-employee relationship is beneficial to employee morale, as it helps to create a positive workplace culture and encourages employees to stay with the organization.

Here are some strategies that L&D leaders can use to encourage managers to improve employee retention:

  1. Communicate the importance of employee retention. L&D leaders can help managers understand the importance of employee retention, and the role they play in the process, by sharing data and research on the benefits of retaining top talent. This can help to build buy-in and support for retention efforts.
  2. Provide training and coaching. L&D leaders can provide managers with training and coaching to help them develop the skills needed to build and maintain positive relationships with their employees. This may include training on effective communication, active listening, conflict resolution, cultivating engagement drivers, supporting employee career goals and performance management.
  3. Encourage regular feedback. L&D leaders can encourage managers to provide regular feedback to their employees by modeling this behavior themselves. This can help to create a culture of open communication and trust, which is essential for employee retention.
  4. Provide tools, resources and people-support processes. L&D leaders can provide managers with the tools and resources they need to build and maintain positive relationships with their employees. This may include training materials, communication templates and processes for helping managers meet the personal and emotional needs of employees so they build a strong connection to their colleagues, their manager and the company.
  5. Recognize and reward good performance. L&D leaders can recognize and reward managers who are successful in retaining top talent. This can help to create a culture of recognition and support, which can motivate managers to continue their efforts.

Employee retention is also beneficial for the employees, as it allows them to develop deeper relationships with their colleagues and managers, and it provides them with a sense of job security and a sense of belonging. It will also enable employees to advance their careers, as they have more opportunities to learn, grow, and develop within the organization.

Skills for a strong manager-employee relationships

Constructing a strong and lasting manager-employee relationship requires effort from both the manager and the employees. Below are some of the top skills of managers who have strong relationships with their employees.

Humility — allows us to recognize and appreciate the strengths and abilities of others, fostering mutual respect and appreciation.

Honesty — builds trust and creates a foundation of authenticity, which allows for deeper and more meaningful connections.

Being genuine — genuine communication allows us to be our true selves and express our thoughts and feelings honestly and openly, leading to greater understanding. 

Empathy — when individuals feel heard and understood, they are more likely to feel connected to the person they are speaking with, leading to stronger bonds, increased trust, a more fulfilling relationship and reduced conflicts.

Caring and support —demonstrating that you care about the employee’s well-being and are there to support them with challenges and concerns helps build trust and a stronger relationship.

Promote work-life balance — managers should promote work-life balance, helping employees to balance their work responsibilities with their personal lives. This can help to reduce stress and improve job satisfaction and retention.

Build personal connections — managers should build personal connections with their employees, getting to know them on a personal level and understanding their individual needs and concerns. This can help to build a sense of community and belonging within the workplace.

Investing in resources and training

In the development of managers, resources and training are important from two standpoints: First, investing in resources and training of employees will help to improve their experience, skills, development and performance. When employees have a dynamic career development plan in place that encompasses their growth and development, they feel they have a future with the organization, and this contributes to their decision to remain with the organization.

Second, training and support for the manager helps them develop the foundations, principles and best people management and emotional intelligence skills that cultivate strong and trusting working relationships. 

Additional investments include providing access to the latest technology, cross training, new project assignments and investing in resources to help employees succeed. When managers grow and improve their leadership skills it brings significant benefits. Employee feedback and willingness to listen to their employees, will help to foster a sense of trust and respect. 360 feedback tools can also help identify manager strengths and where improvements can be realized 

We must realize that the role of the manager has undergone significant changes in the last three years due to advancements in technology, changing workplace dynamics, new generations in the workplace and evolving employee expectations. Here are some of the key changes that have occurred:

  1. Emphasis on soft skills: The role of the manager has become more focused on soft skills such as communication, empathy, and emotional intelligence. Managers need to be able to connect with their employees and provide a supportive and inclusive work environment.
  2. Greater flexibility: With the rise of remote work and flexible scheduling, managers need to be able to adapt to new ways of working and managing their teams. This requires a more agile and flexible approach to management.
  3. Emphasis on employee experience: Employee experience has become a critical component of the manager’s role. Managers need to be able to create a positive work environment that supports employee well-being, growth, and development.
  4. Increasing use of technology: Technology has become an integral part of the manager’s role, from remote communication tools to performance management software. Managers need to be able to effectively leverage technology to manage their teams and meet business objectives.

It is critical to keep in touch with what managers need to be effective in their roles. Providing managers with the tools, learning experiences and support they need to adapt to these changes is essential for not only their success, but the success of the organization.

 Regular feedback and communication can help L&D leaders understand the evolving needs of managers and develop resources that are relevant and impactful. Additionally, providing opportunities for managers to share best practices and collaborate with their peers can help to build a culture of continuous L&D.


Through a L&D-heavy focus, you can build strong and lasting manager-employee relationships, from which your organization can benefit from increased employee engagement, improved morale and reduced turnover. Additionally, it can help to create a more productive and efficient workplace, and ultimately, can lead to increased job satisfaction and loyalty.

Douglas Brown

Douglas Brown is the president of Manage2Retain.

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