As a leaders or mid-manager, you will make it or break it in 2022, but only if you know what to do and why.

Here is a short run-down (click on the links in this paragraph to jump to the corresponding section).

Your team is going through a lot, most likely bordering burnout, but your C-Level just wants to drag them back in the office to improve productivity and company culture. People resist this, but may come back in the office for specific types of work. It’s a tug-of-war, and several (40%!) are ready to walk.

You have the power to solve this, and these are your best weapons:

Source: Microsoft

Let’s face it: these past 18 months have been heavy, very, incredibly heavy.

And let’s be clear: you are not be personally responsible for everything that happened in the world in 2020-2021! That said though, there is also no way you can read this and say ” that’s none of my business”.

Thing is that if you are a manager (in any department and at any level) you share the responsibility of your team’s well-being and safety. And sure, in your team’s case there may not have been anybody who cried out of fear, stress, burnout, pressure… but at the same time, there is also no way that your team was doing perfectly fine, and that’s where we need to start from.

It’s a lot to take in, and we as a society are also in a collective burnout right now.

As much as I’d love to not put you in the spot I unfortunately have to:

You, as a manager and leader of people are the professional figure that will have the strongest impact on others, and that will help them react and get better.

Now, put it all together, think about the people that work with you and ask yourself a question:

“Can I reasonably believe that nobody in my team is feeling any of those effects, in any way, and that they are doing as well as they were before the pandemic?”

It’s a simple yes or no question, and I’m not saying you are to blame if the answer is “no”.

What I’m saying is that it is part of your job as a manager and people leader to do something about it.

In the rest of this article I’ll give you a precise action plan on what to do, but before that we need to take a look at the context we’re in.

C-Level (or upper management) is dragging people back into the office.

They want people in front of their desks, no discussions.

People resist, rightfully.

And you and HR are in the middle between the two tug-of-war players.

It’s not comfortable, but it’s also a privileged position: you are the bridge between the “top” and the “bottom” – and if you know their positions, you are the one able to broker a truce.

It all starts with looking at who wants what – i.e.

  • why c-level wants people back in
  • why people are resisting
  • where the two can meet

C-Level and people were asked to list the top 4 answers to “why is it necessary to go back to the office?”

This is what C-Level said:

Source: PWC

and this is what people (the ones actually doing the work) said:

Source: PWC

Basically: C-Level want to bring everyone back in as soon as possible, because this way people will be “more productive”, while people that actually get the job done see no issue with their productivity.

As a matter of fact, it’s not that people don’t want to come back at all to the office, they just want to come back for different reasons!

Here C-Level were asked how much people should work in the office to keep up company culture:

Source: PWC

39% of C-Level believes culture is only kept up if everyone is in the office 4-5 days a week

You don’t need to agree, but you need to know it.

So you now have that:

  • c-level wants to drag people back in the office to be more productive and to keep up company culture
  • people don’t see productivity as linked to office work, but want to come back for other reasons

Which in turn means something else:

I’ve spoken about this at large – take a listen because that’s where you need to start from if you want to be the leader your team needs.

That tug-of-war I was talking about before is not just theory.

It’s happening, to your team, right now!

Just think of the fact that as a result of all this pressure, about 40% of people are considering leaving their job (i.e. you!).

Source: Microsoft

Fun fact: two major companies looked at the phenomenon, independently – and the two of them came up with the exact same number…

Source: McKinsey

So what do you do? Your best possible option is to double down on trust.

You’ve probably hear that people don’t leave bad companies, they leave bad leaders. Well that’s exactly your situation!

If C-level keeps on pulling from one end, your team keeps on resisting and you don’t show your people you have their back, they will leave – and 40% is already thinking about it.

You have two choices as a manager:

Do nothing and expect that someone else (HR maybe) will solve the problem for you.

Step up, and recognize that keeping your team healthy, open and resilient is part of your job, and knowing where to focus on.

It probably doesn’t take a rocket scientist to tell that I’m all for option 2.

Not easy, not immediate but effective – so in the rest of this article I want to give you some guidelines on how to go about it.

Your best option is to ethically (re)gain your team’s trust, and the rest of this article will show you exactly how to do it.

Your team will decide on whether to trust you or not based on three qualities they believe you possess: Ability, Integrity and Benevolence – I’ll give you details on each one in a moment

First, though, take this self-assessment – it will give you a precise starting point of where you are and what you need to work on.

Ability in leadership means simply “being able to do your job”.

To show your team you have the right level of ability as a leader:

1 – create an adequate structure for them to work in.

This means:

  1. Appropriate resource and task distribution across the team
  2. Establishing a “code of conduct” shared by everyone (including you) that encourages open communication, learning, adaptability – and following that code yourself!
  3. Hiring the right people, i.e. creating a team that is appropriate in terms of size, diversity and skills

2 – always be the one setting a direction

Communicate, motivate and compel others to follow you.

Integrity in leadership means “adhering to a set of principles that your team members find acceptable”.

In practice this means:

  • hold yourself accountable for your actions and decisions, and own the consequences (accountability) – privately or publicly.
  • treat everyone fairly and consistently (fairness). This means that regardless of who is involved, people will believe that to an action from their side corresponds always the same reaction from yours, that a specific behavior always leads to the same consequence, regardless of who is involved. This means at a larger scale treating everyone with respect in the same way, not making favorites on pay and career opportunities, not taking sides in conflicts
  • hire people whose values you see are connected to yours (also connecting to setting the right team structure in ability) – this will contribute to living by the same code of conduct and by the same culture in the team

Benevolence in leadership means “genuinely caring about your team members’ well-being and professional growth”.

Benevolence in practice means being supportive and keeping an eye open for chances where you could help someone out, it means asking your team for input on difficult decisions and keeping their input into account. It means consistently rewarding efforts, and it means making a point of being actively responsible for your team’s professional growth – e.g. by structuring their learning process and offering additional learning possibilities

To show your team you have the right level of benevolence as a leader:

1 – Remember to always actively show support and care

For example by

  1. being helpful: keep an eye open for ways to make it easier for your team when they face something difficult or when they are trying to understand a difficult concept – be proactive about it! 
  2. asking for input and help on key decisions and showing them that you’ve taken their input into account. Do this especially when it comes to higher-level decisions – something way beyond their title, to be clear. Being consulted and considered in these decisions is a massive sign of respect and trust.
  3. recognizing and rewarding efforts consistently: remember to not take your team’s effort for granted. Yes, they are paid to do their job… but you are also paid to do your, and helping them grow, reinforcing their beliefs in themselves IS part of your job as a leader! Don’t be one of the managers whose silence means appreciation. I had one like that, it’s horrible.

2 – take responsibility for their growth and learning

In practice this means:

  1. Make a medium-term plan for growth and learning with each team member.
  2. Once agreed, assign them tasks or give them opportunities to learn in the area they are interested in.
  3. Keep revisiting it, check in with them, be active and engaged about their learning.

Again, if you want to go down this path, take this self-assessment – look at your results and get to work. I guarantee you’ll see results soon.

And if you want to take it a notch up, take a look at this emotional intelligence test as well – same purpose.

As a team leader you have a lot of weight on your shoulders right now.

That’s no secret, but neither is the fact that you are not alone.

There is another figure you can (and should) work with right now, and that’s everyone in HR and L&D.

You need to connect and discuss with them, and keep doing it until you have figured out how this tension between c-level and people in your company looks like.

The more you engage with each other, the better chances you will both have to ease it up and move past it.

Out of everything, there is one single aspect you can easily start from: the fact that 60% of HR managers believes that building critical skills is the key to rebuilding and reshaping organizations.

Building critical skills is the key to rebuilding and reshaping organizations

Source: Gartner and LinkedIn


Credit where is due: L&D and HR are doing an incredible job. The last two years have shown what this function can really do and what it means for an organization to think in this sense.

Unfortunately, though, people need more.

To turn skills in a competitive advantage, we need to go faster, and leaders need to step in and help.

Here is what is happening:

Source: Linkedin

Source: Linkedin

Source: Linkedin

Looks good?

It isn’t.

Turn those numbers the other way around and see if they look just as good:

47% of learners don’t feel their boss supports their career goals

60% of learners say that their managers are NOT challenging them to learn a new skill.

51% of L&D pros are not working with managers to drive learner engagement and skill building

Learning new skills and learning on the job have become major engagement trends. In other words: people want to remain in environments that enable them to grow according to their own personal development goals.

Bottom line then: you need to let people know you care, you need to come up with a development plan for each one (ref. benevolence) and you need to do it together with HR and L&D. They are the ones that can support you in keeping your team together like nobody else.

HR and L&D are the ones that can support you in keeping your team together like nobody else.

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    • Svetlana
    • 30/11/2021

    Excellent and precise analysis!
    Directly to the point! Actual and factual.
    Mostly, I agree with all arguments and phrases in the first 2/3 parts of this review.
    Most companies and their managers on different levels do not want to face the truth still!
    It does not work anymore!
    Thanks for your thorough review. It really worthed for one month`s efforts!

      • Edoardo
      • 30/11/2021

      Thank you! Really glad you enjoyed it and found it useful!