Top tactics for keeping your managerial talent happy

Here’s how to keep your top talent happy, according to Kedge Martin.

Reading time: 5 minutes.

The last decade has seen organisations put growing emphasis on the wellness and work/life balance of their staff, offering incentives such as gym membership and other employee rewards and recognition practices. This is to be welcomed, but there is a risk that other elements needed to keep managerial talent happy are not being considered. 

In my experience there are four common factors that often tip managers into a work rut which can quickly lead to stress and breakdown: isolation; lack of challenge and use of their skills; paucity of recognition, appreciation and respect; and learning and personal development has ground to a halt.

Lonely at the top – Isolation

Back in 2011 Lloyds banking chief Antonio Horta-Osorio made headlines when he announced he was taking a leave of absence due to fatigue.

Speaking publicly about the stress-induced insomnia which led him to check in to the Priory, Horta-Osario was quoted as saying, “Leadership is a lonely thing. When you have to make tough decisions in relation to strategy or very important issues you have to take them in the end alone.”

Your staff are your most valuable asset – pro-actively look after and care for them as a whole human being

Horta-Osario’s high profile need to take time off prompted debate about working practices in the banking sector, but also about the vulnerability of those in the most senior positions.

According to recent research into work satisfaction levels among 1,000 UK executives and managers, those in the financial services and IT sectors (the more compliance and process sectors) are most likely to have disengaged and miserable people in top roles. 

These are leaders who are susceptible to work-induced stress, so learning and development professionals need to find strategies to help them reignite their work mojo. 

Work boredom – lack of challenge

Being stuck in a repetitive job which you loathe can be just as damaging to your mental health and wellbeing as stress and overload burnout.

Managers in creative and small businesses were the most motivated followed by the legal profession and accountancy where there is generally a strong ethos of customer service and interaction with a variety of people. It is not surprising that research showed that managers were engaged by being involved in a challenging project (64%).

Respect – recognition and appreciation

We all need to feel appreciated – it’s part of our human condition. Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs noted ‘esteem’ as one of the five most basic human needs. For learning and development professionals, keeping your top talent engaged and out of a work rut, will be easier if they feel engaged, challenged and then appreciated and validated for the work they have done.


That said, there is no point handing out project work to people who don’t feel they have the time or support to able to commit to it, may not be able to achieve it and therefore will not get any validation or appreciation. The focus needs to be on creating projects that are aligned with the individuals’ skill set and making sure they have the support and training they need to achieve their goals.

Poor training ethos – learning and personal development

The problem is that for many managers, learning and development stalls once they have reached a senior role. 

Yet effective training programmes are just as essential for those at the top of the company hierarchy as it is at the bottom. Not only does it help the business by making sure that the individual can do their work in the most efficient manner, but it also helps to improve work satisfaction through learning and personal growth, avoiding the risk of mental health problems.

No doubt there will be some who baulk at the thought of yet more work and training. However, if a training plan is developed in consultation with the individual to reflect their needs and interests rather than a top down uniform approach, learning and education can be a significant motivation.

Prevention Solutions and Pro-active HR:  Mid-life audit and life coaching

Major corporates, such as Aviva, have embraced ‘mid-life audits’ as a way of boosting retention among its middle-aged workforce and tackling mental health issues before they become significant problems. 

Annual audits, unrelated to internal professional work appraisals, give the individual a precious opportunity to step back and address any problems they have. This gives them the space to work out what changes they need to make to prevent or reduce any obstacles that would prevent them from being at their best.   

Organisations can use independent audits (which will not impact on, nor influence, their performance reviews) to show that they care for their managers holistically – their whole wellbeing, not just for their work output. Just this week, the American communications agency, Weave, has announced plans to offer life coaching, starting with a personal questionnaire, as a benefit to all their ‘people, not employees’.

While Horta-Osorio provides a great example of someone who was confident enough admit to tiredness and fatigue, others won’t be so forthcoming. This means that leaders need to be given a safe place (for instance, an independent coach) to be able to share their concerns about work and other issues that impact on their lives and look for ways to resolve issues.

And finally, with research finding that 14% of senior managers hate their job and only turn up because they feel they have no other options – working with them to help identify transferable skills and opportunities outside their current role is both good for the individual and the company. 

Your staff are your most valuable asset – pro-actively look after and care for them as a whole human being, recognise that they have an impact both within and outside the office and your business will thrive.


About the author

Kedge Martin is CEO of executive mentors Rutbusters



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