Michael Hyltoft is an accomplished Supply Chain Finance Director, Transformation Director and Advisor with over 20 years experience in finance, shared services, technology and outsourcing. With his record of successfully implementing SCF programs, he is well versed in all aspects of designing and implementing SCF from end to end. In recent times, Michael has been looking at how companies can transform by focusing on employees’ attitude and behaviour, and not just systems and processes. In this guest blog series, Michael will explore how businesses can harness employee engagement to become more profitable, in place of implementing vast system overhauls.

In my recent blog on one-to-one (1:1) manager meetings, I highlighted the importance of 1:1 meetings between employees and managers, and examined the impact this has on employee engagement and longer term company profitability. Here, in this blog, I consider what other meetings employees attend with their manager outside of a 1:1 setting, and the impact of these meetings on both.

A North American survey of 32,410 American and Canadian executives, managers and employees showed that the median time people spend interacting with their manager was three hours a week or 7.5% of the total time available, assuming a 40 hour working week. This included general meetings, emails and calls. We can define this total amount of time spent together as “co-attendance”. Initially, this seems like a lot, but the research indicates that the optimal is higher.

The survey correlated the number of hours an employee spent with their manager each week against the score employees gave in response to the question: “Working here inspires my absolute best effort.”  This allowed the survey to find the “optimal” number of hours for an employee and manager to spend together. The amount of time employees and managers should be spending together for optimal employee happiness and motivation is 6 hours/15% (see figure below); exactly double the median from the survey.

Figure 1: Hours spent per week with manager compared to delivering best effort.

Interestingly, when examining the same data for positions of increased seniority, it showed a drop in the optimal number of hours. As an individual becomes more experienced and independent at work, the required number of hours they have in direct contact with a superior decreases.

Another key factor that plays into the optimal number of hours together is how long the employee has been in the company. It is reasonable to assume that newer employees will initially need more time with their manager as they learn their new role. In this case, the optimal number of hours increases in the short term.

However, like everything in life, you can get too much of a good thing. Very high co-attendance, where both manager and employee attend the same meetings repetitively, could be an indication of underlying problems, from simple duplication of work to the more serious micromanagement.

By creating a simple grid, which correlates the time spent in 1:1s against the time spent in co-attendance, you can create four different types of management “styles”:

Coaching: I have defined this as a manager who has more than two hours of 1:1s a month with their employee and spends less than 30% of their time co-attending.

Micromanaged: Here too the manager spends more than two hours a month in 1:1s, but they have overlap/co-attendance of above 30%. Hence a sign of a potential situation of micromanagement.

Co-attending relationship: Here the employee has less than two hours in 1:1s but spends over 30% of their time in co-attendance with their manager. This could indicate unclear roles and responsibilities and/or a manager who finds it hard to delegate.

Under-coached: Finally, some employees don’t spend much time with their manager one way or another. This could be a sign of disengagement from either side or underlying personality issues.

Figure 2: Distribution of manager to employee coaching relationship

The optimum scenario is to have everybody in the “coaching” definition. However, there can be valid business reasons for why the required time spent with a manager varies compared to above thresholds, for example, new employees being micromanaged while getting used to their roles as mentioned earlier.

Some examples to consider before setting the thresholds and evaluating how much time managers and employee should spend together are:

  • Manual/simple processing work: for example, transactional processing and roles with clearly defined responsibilities
  • High level of autonomy professions: for example, tax accounting and teachers
  • Performance-based roles: for example, sales or recruiters

Some roles and professions may have a higher need for coaching/training, which could be provided by their manager or peers. This would affect the optimal number of hours spent with a manager.

You should measure total time spent together in the same way you measure 1:1s, as described in 1:1 manager meetings impact on engagement and profitability. You can also easily use “big data” to measure the co-attendees between employee and manager (or any other groups for that matter), as the above real-life example shows. By using the metadata available in the email and calendar systems of organisations, it is now possible to track the management of employees more precisesly and get early indications if changes are required.

There are benefits to both the company and the employee in measuring meetings. It can strongly affect an employees' well-being and motivation levels, and it can improve the profitability of the company by over 20%, (Willis Towers Watson and Gallup research) so it is not only important for the employees. Learning how to use this data and get the most out of it, is a journey - you are unlikely to get it right the first time, but the sooner you start the journey, the quicker you will get there.

Written by

Michael Hyltoft

Michael Hyltoft is an accomplished Supply Chain Finance Director, Transformation Director and Advisor with over 20 years’ experience in delivering large scale transformation programmes focusing on the back office.

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