'Completely unmanageable': Helping managers deal with impossible workloads

'You can't train your way out of an unmanageable set of responsibilities,' employers told

'Completely unmanageable': Helping managers deal with impossible workloads

Unmanageable tasks are starting to push managers beyond their limits, with growing employee expectations threatening to fully tip them over the edge, according to a new report.

Gartner's survey among over 6,000 individual contributors and managers found that 51% of managers are carrying more responsibilities than they can effectively deal with. According to the survey, 35% have more direct reports while 49% said the complexity of their responsibilities has increased.

Jonathan Tabah, Sydney-based director in Gartner's HR Practice, attributed the situation to the fast-paced rate of change that managers are expected to adapt to.

"Every change means new responsibilities, processes and tasks for managers; and their plates have become overloaded," Tabah said in a statement. "The result is the role of the manager has become completely unmanageable and many are failing."

Growing employee expectations

The results came as Gartner also discovered that 77% of employees are putting high importance on manager support.

"They now expect personalised support and development, as a whole person, not just as a professional. That places a whole new set of expectations on the shoulders of managers," Tabah said.

Furthermore, Gartner found that employees are leaving because of manager-related reasons such as:

  • Quality of managers
  • Not feeling respected at work
  • Lack of support for work-life balance
  • People management

Is training effective?

As a result of these growing changes, more organisations are utilising development programmes to increase their managers' skills proficiency, according to Swagatam Basu, senior director in the Gartner HR practice.

"Unfortunately, a March 2023 survey of 98 HR leaders found only 25% feel confident their investments in manager development are working," Basu said in a media release.

Tabah noted that organisations need to look beyond manager training and development and instead evaluate whether all responsibilities and tasks on managers' plates.

"Manager development is important, but you can't train your way out of an unmanageable set of responsibilities," Tabah added.

Improving job manageability

Amid higher responsibilities, organizations are urged to "redesign the manager role to focus on the activities that have the greatest impact on manager effectiveness," according to Brent Cassell, vice president in the Gartner HR practice. Organizations can shift the manager role by:

  • Empowering managers to connect employees with others for coaching and development.
  • Rescoping the role to focus on high-value tasks that managers are uniquely positioned to execute.

It is also important that potential managers are allowed to self-discover if they are fit for the role by letting them:

  • Understand their own strengths and development areas.
  • Participate in "manager simulation programs" before taking the job.
  • Choose to opt out of the management training program and remain in an individual contributor role without a loss in pay or respect.

Most organizations could be looking at potential managerial candidates based on their performance as individual contributors, according to Cassell, who said this is not a guaranteed predictor.

"Pushing high performing individual contributors into management by default can lead to employees who aren't interested in management becoming managers," Cassell said.

It is also important that organizations help their managers build long-term habits to drive effective behaviours instead of simply focusing on skills proficiency, according to Gartner.

Organizations should also minimise process hurdles - such as dated onboarding processes and complex budget approvals processes - that are hiking manager fatigue by up to 42%, according to Gartner

"Managers are 1.4 times more likely to find their jobs manageable when their organizations take steps to minimise process hurdles that take managers' attention away from their core people management responsibilities," Basu said.

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