How can we help managers create good (better) jobs?

When it comes to a “good job,”perhaps nothing is more important than a good manager. Everyone deserves one — what should organizations be doing to support them?

In the last few blogs that I published in 2023, I talked about the impact of job quality on individuals, teams, organizations, and communities. And I wrapped up by suggesting that perhaps the most important element in building and sustaining job quality is the presence of a good manager. This got me thinking and led me to ask the question, “if managers are critical to a good job, then what should organizations be doing to support managers in this key function?”

While there are lots of things that organizations can do, I think a good place to start is to think about time, tools, mindset, and trust.


Do managers have time to focus on creating good jobs?

Most managers move into managerial roles with all the expectations and responsibilities of managing a team, while still carrying responsibilities for individual deliverables. That often creates conflict as managers try to balance – and meet – competing demands on their time that might not be, so to speak, manageable.

Gallup surveyed 50,000 managers and found that “heavy workload and distractions” and “unclear expectations” were among the top five challenges that they faced. Forty-two percent of managers strongly agreed that they faced competing priorities, compared with 27% of individual contributors.

For managers to create and support good jobs, they need to dedicate time to this work. And the time they dedicate to the work must be recognized and rewarded. It’s won’t just happen on its own…especially if it’s not seen as a valuable use of their time (or if it’s consistently seen as less valuable than other activities). In my experience as a manager at multiple management consulting firms, the ones where our performance measures recognized the time I invested in the development and wellbeing of my direct reports (and our broader practice) – and not just in delivering “financial results” – let me know that it was a part of my job that mattered.


If managers do have the time to support a “good jobs” experience, they also need the necessary tools. Tools for building good jobs come in many forms:

  • Organization policies that support good jobs
  • Administrative processes that aren’t burdensome and make managers’ and team members’ jobs easier
  • Facilities and equipment that support safe and effective work
  • An ability to secure the resources that the team needs to be effective, whether that’s additional labor or more or better tools, resources, and training

 Many of these are related to the checklist items that I discussed in previous blogs about what makes a good job.

For managers, there are multiple dimensions to this challenge. One, do the tools exist? That is, does the organization provide the tools that frontline managers need for good jobs?

Second, if the tools exist, do managers have access to them?

And, finally, do managers have the skills/receive the training needed to effectively use them?

  • Do they know the organization’s policies and are they able to effectively apply and explain them to team members (e.g., wages, compensation, and benefit plans; health and safety practices; training and development opportunities)?
  • Are they able to provide ongoing feedback and coaching to team members in support of their performance and career growth?

Unfortunately, frontline and first-time managers rarely receive specific training in management tasks such as hiring, coaching, performance management, career development, and compensation. Even in organizations that invest in people development, managers still tend to be promoted because of their technical job skills without much attention to the fact that managing people is a separate and unique set of skills and competencies.

In the Gallup survey mentioned earlier, 36% of managers did not fully believe that they had the skills needed to do their best work.

Employees agree, too. In a 2020 SHRM survey,

  • Nearly 6 in 10 American workers (57 percent) believe managers in their workplace could benefit from training on how to be better people managers.
  • Half of American workers (50 percent) believe it would help them improve their own work performance if their direct supervisor’s people management skills were improved.
  • Over one-third of American workers (41 percent) believe their direct manager could benefit from additional training in communication skills. Other areas for improvement include training and developing their teams (cited by 38 percent of respondents); time management, delegation, and prioritizing (37 percent); managing team performance (35 percent); and cultivating a positive and inclusive team culture (35 percent).

And, in the past few years, the role of managers has become even more challenging as they struggle to lead more distributed teams and to support workers who are less willing to tolerate poor management practices and “bad jobs.”


Making the transition from individual contributor to manager requires a shift in perspective. Those who move into management roles often think that they need to be a super contributor, instead of making a different type of contribution. Without shifting their perspective, many managers miss the opportunity to create good jobs and, in the process, make their own jobs more difficult.

IRC4HR-funded research by Work for Humanity (WFH) and Workforce & Organizational Research Center (WORC) began with the assumption that “the creation of high-quality jobs must ultimately be a co-creation process between employers and workers. Training alone, for either party, is insufficient to catalyze that process.” The researchers argue that “changing mindsets – the set of beliefs and assumptions that shape how we make sense of the world – is a prerequisite if we want to create good jobs at scale.” They designed a program that shifted the mindsets of managers and then measured the impact that shift had on employees, and on managers themselves.

The mindset shifts for managers enabled them to:

  • Move from having to know and do it all to trusting and developing employees to do it all
  • Stop working harder than anyone else and start to create the conditions for everyone to do their best work
  • Change from feeling singularly responsible for success to sharing responsibility, and credit, for success.
  • Reframe honest feedback from conflict to coaching

With these mindsets, managers reclaimed time and energy from having to know, do, and be responsible for everything. When they slowed down and empowered their team, the team experienced many aspects of good jobs, including:

  • Improved work environment
  • Increased autonomy on the job
  • More meaningful work
  • Opportunities for training and development

One of the key takeaways from the research was that you can improve the quality of the work experience without changing the job itself: “Mindset shifts effectively improved an individual’s experience of work and led to a higher quality of life, even when nothing changed about the work environment or job itself.”

It should be noted that this research focused on small business owners who had complete autonomy to take on the shifts in mindset described above. It’s possible that the types of changes they experienced could be harder to accomplish inside a larger organization where managerial tone and culture is set by others, but I believe the findings and insights are worth exploring for organizations that seek to enable managers to create and support good jobs and a better workplace experience for their teams (and for themselves).


As we’ve seen previously, good jobs are more than just a collection of scorecard items. Workers also have higher-level social, emotional, and work experience needs that must be addressed in a good job.

Support, belonging, pride, and camaraderie are all important. These higher-level dimensions of a good job depend on meeting an individual employee’s personal needs and preferences. Hence, it looks different from person to person, company to company, region to region, and industry to industry.

As I’ve noted before, one worker’s flexible schedule might be another’s intolerable chaos. Comfortable job security for one employee might drive another to boredom and disengagement. Higher needs can even be different for the same person at different stages of their working life.

Ultimately, the relationship between managers and team members is fundamental to what makes a job good. And, like all relationships, this one comes down to trust.

What does that trust look like? At a minimum, it’s the ability for managers and employees to have candid conversations about needs, wants, compromises, and personal growth. 

But trust is much more than honest conversations. I’m going to examine trust more deeply in coming blogs. Stay tuned.

Jodi Starkman is Executive Director of the Innovation Resource Center for Human Resources.

(Image: by Joe Holland on Unsplash)