How to survive with a missing manager

One new survey shows a vacant leadership role can have an adverse impact on staff - but that doesn't mean HR should rush to recruit someone.

How to survive with a missing manager

Employee productivity can take a big hit when the boss leaves, according to a survey by staffing firm Robert Half.

Both workers and CFOs believe having a vacant senior manager role has an adverse impact on the team's efficiency, the research found.

Those in leadership (70%) are more likely to find it an even greater problem than staffers (59%). Both groups said that a senior manager’s voluntary or involuntary departure “greatly” or “somewhat” impedes employee productivity.

The survey of workers included responses from more than 1,000 US professionals age 18 and over and employed in office environments. The CFO survey is based on telephone interviews with more than 2,200 CFOs from in more than 20 of the largest US metropolitan areas.

"When there are changes in management, employees often feel distressed by the unknown," said Paul McDonald, senior executive director at Robert Half. "To help ease the transition and allay any concerns, it's essential for employers to communicate openly and often with staff."

Decreased morale and motivation were the biggest reported causes of lost productivity among both groups, followed by concerns over increased workloads and fear about job security or relationships with the new boss, the survey said.

The firm suggested four ways that may help managers avoid a drop in productivity and help employees effectively navigate changes in leadership:

  • Cultivate succession and hiring pipelines. Know who in your department or company might be ready to move into a bigger role, and keep a trusted recruiter on speed dial.
  • Consider an interim boss. If you don't have someone who can step into a leadership position immediately, hire an interim manager to keep projects moving and workloads in check.
  • Move quickly. Minimize the time of uncertainty by filling the role swiftly yet smartly, making sure you check off all necessary steps.
  • Keep everyone informed. Updating your team about the progress of the search for a new manager can help improve staff morale and keep rumours to a minimum.

"If a senior manager leaves a company, the focus should be on keeping teams motivated and engaged while quickly staffing the opening," McDonald said. "Employers who don't address workers' concerns risk a decrease in employee performance and an increase in turnover." 

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