Sioux's blog: Line Manager Lessons

clock Released On 09 July 2024

Sioux's blog: Line Manager Lessons

I’ve been a line manager for several years and have been managed by an array of people over the years too with varying degrees of success. I thought I would share some of the lessons I’ve learnt from my own experiences and my own mistakes in the hopes you might learn from them as I have.

Be curious

I was working a maternity cover contract for a large organisation, leading a team. Prior to me joining, someone within the team had returned from maternity themselves and was settling back into work after their time off. I noticed that they were arriving late to work, seemed distracted and distant in the office and their output was below where I expected it to be. As their new line manager, I didn’t want to “rock the boat” so I made a note to myself and didn’t talk to the colleague about my concerns. Over the next few weeks they took a number of isolated days sick and, sticking to policy, I conducted return to work interviews each time, following the script and not deviating from the questions on the form. This was a mistake. I should have been more curious to ask meaningful questions to understand what was going. At the third return to work meeting, the colleague broke down in tears. She explained she was a single parent to twins who had just started nursery and where catching every cough, cold and bug around and she had no support available to look after them. She was also paying more each month in nursery fees than she was earning from her job and trying to get the drop off done in time to start work at 9am was proving very tricky. With this context, everything now made so much more sense and we were able to work together to create a plan that supported her rather than penalised her. We agreed a later start time, the flexibility to work from home if she needed to (provided essential face to face meetings were still kept) and I referred her to the EAP for some support on financial options available to her. The change in her attitude, attendance and output were marked and it was wonderful to see her flourish. I just wish I had been more curious earlier.

Policy should help not hinder

Policy is there to protect organisations and colleagues and is a very important part of setting a business up for success. But there is a time and a place to be flexible and assess individual situation. I took on a new role managing a team that was spread across the country and one colleague had an informal arrangement to work from home permanently (this was in the days before COVID made this normal) which was at odds with our policy and contracts. The policy stated that working from home should be the exception and not the rule and we didn’t offer remote working contracts so I felt I needed to address this informal arrangement and get the colleague back into the office pronto. Following the policy to the letter, I said to my team member that as of X date, they would need to attend their local office (which was over 30 miles away) at their own cost. This, unsurprisingly, didn’t go down well and the colleague left. I lost a good member of the team because I didn’t explore how we could ease her back into commuting and coming in, I didn’t check what her home arrangements were and I wasn’t acknowledging that she was doing good work “despite” working from home. I should have flexed the policy. I should have consulted the colleague. I should have been fairer in the application of the policy.

Treat people as humans

The best manager I’ve had was curious, flexible on policy and, most importantly, treated me and the team as humans with our own aspirations and challenges. I was going through a period of ill health and was struggling to get into the office and my productivity had dropped. I was aware I was struggling but had no idea what to do or say to explain this to him. Without prompting, he took me for a coffee, sat me down and said “Sioux, how are you?”. There was no accusation in his tone, there were no expectations of how I “should” answer, he genuinely wanted to know how I was. So I told him. And I am so glad I did. He listened, he asked questions and at the end of the conversation he asked what he could do to support me. We talked through some options and we left the conversation with a plan for the next few weeks and an agreement to keep talking. The conversation has stuck with me all these years and I’m grateful to that manager for his kindness, authenticity and care.

These are just a few examples and I continue to learn as a line manager every day. I ask my team for critical feedback and make sure I listen to what they say and constantly look to improve. It’s a journey!

Sioux lives in a village outside Milton Keynes with her husband, young son, 3 cats and 2 dogs. When not managing the chaos of home, she works for a large housing association looking after health, wellbeing and engagement.


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