4 tips to helping managers for unhappy employees

Author - Thomas Phillipsen. Senior Leadership Consultant

“I’m still in shock on the third day”

“I never in my wildest dreams imagined seeing such deep red feedback from my employees”

“Why did no one say anything before now?”

Getting red results – everyday words for low scores in engagement surveys – is a highly emotional experience for most managers. Even managers who are used to setbacks and are usually able to deal with criticism in a professional and nuanced manner may experience strong emotional reactions when they are presented with survey results that are significantly lower than they had expected.

It will be a particular challenge for managers in units that have experienced a sharp fall and posted low scores on the overall assessment of engagement. Engagement often reflects how well the immediate manager is succeeding in managing the task solving in a way that creates a sense of belonging among the employees.

It will be particularly bad if the manager has received low scores for the questions relating to “immediate manager”. In this case, it is the manager’s daily performance as a manager that is being assessed, and many organizations treat this as an indication of whether the manager can cope with her managerial duties.

At Ennova, we focus on ensuring that the surveys we help our customers carry out will make a difference to their organizational reality. This means that what happens after the results have been delivered is of critical importance to us.

Early warning to HR

For this reason, we have recently intensified our efforts at the touchpoint we have with our customers when the very first results are ready – before the manager receives the results.

We call this touch point Early Warning. It consists in a meeting between a business psychologist and a consultant from Ennova and the customer’s HR partners. The aim of the meeting is to give the HR partners a head start so that they, among other things, get the opportunity to contact managers with low scores before they receive the scores.

At the Early Warning meetings, the HR partners typically seek feedback on how to support the affected managers in their first contact with them.

Here are four pieces of advice that we often give:

1. Help the manager handle her immediate emotional response

The sound old advice about meeting people where they are is particularly important in this context. It is precisely in a confidential conversation with an impartial discussion partner that the manager can vent her frustration, disappointment or anger, and it is therefore important to provide space for the emotional aspects of the conversation.

In addition, it is also essential to help the manager formulate her more formal response, as she will express it when meeting with the employees. It is, of course, entirely legitimate for the manager to be affected by the employees’ feedback, but the communication with the employees needs to be professional and objective.

2. Make the process clear

Another important piece of advice is to help the manager get a clear view of the next steps in the follow-up process. This involves, among other things, making sure that the manager knows exactly how and when the employees will learn the results and that she has an overview of when it will be possible to assemble the employees for a follow-up meeting. It is often a significant help to have the actual process drawn up clearly.

3. Offer support

In addition, it is important to have a dialog about what the organization can offer the manager in the subsequent follow-up process. If HR offers support in the process with the employees, the manager needs to know about that. The manager’s own manager would also probably be an obvious person to discuss these matters with. The most important aspect here is that the manager should feel that the organization is supporting her and offers assistance in the subsequent follow-up process.

4. Finish by focusing on the next step

As in many other types of discussion, it is a good idea to end the conversation with the manager formulating her next step. In other words, what the manager should do first, and not least when she should do it.


In some cases, the HR partner may conclude after this first contact that the manager is well able herself to run the follow-up process forwards from that point. In these cases, the HR partner will arrange an appointment with the manager so that they can talk again later in the process.

In other situations, after the conversation the HR partner may feel that the manager needs more support. Either this be done by HR itself offering to facilitate the process or by an external discussion partner. In such cases, Ennova will provide advice and guidance to HR on what efforts are required and will also facilitate the specific actions.

An early warning gives you the opportunity to be proactive in a situation, where reactive actions rarely are the most appropriate. In this way, you will be increasing the likelihood that your managers and their employees will successfully get back on track.

Thomas Phillipsen. Senior Leadership Consultant

Thomas Phillipsen. Senior Leadership Consultant

Thomas Phillipsen is Senior Leadership Consultant, Business Psychologist, at Ennova’s Leadership and Team Development department and has over 10 years’ experience promoting organizational development based on data. Thomas is responsible for working with data-based change processes, management leadership development and support for low-scoring units, and he is particularly dedicated towards making change processes as useful and long-lasting as possible.