The coming wave of ‘boss loss’

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We’ve always known that having friends at work makes us more engaged and that it is great for wellbeing, but the pandemic has made social ties even more important. When I saw London Business School professor Lynda Gratton talking about her book Redesigning Work, I was struck by her analysis that successfully reimagined office cultures will rest on friendships. The reason we go to the office, in other words, has to be human connection.

Even so, physical proximity means nothing in itself. New research from Accenture, drawn from 1,100 executives and 5,000 workers in 12 countries, found that 42 per cent of people working on-site felt “not connected” in a human sense at work, compared with 36 per cent of hybrid workers and 22 per cent of those who are fully remote.

The consultancy suggests solutions that management can employ, some of which are jargon-y (“Omni-connected experiences help people be productive wherever they are”). More practically, it advises that leaders who encourage open communication and trust will foster an atmosphere where human connections can flourish.

I agree — but I also recall that some of my best friendships began in adversity, born out of the shared resentment of working for a bad boss.

Write to me at workingit@ft.com if you’ve found the secret to creating a non-toxic workplace where friendships flourish. We will be covering it in a future episode of the Working It podcast.

PS I wrote this when my best friend left the FT — and had wonderful responses from readers whose working lives had been immensely enriched by deep friendships.

Read on for Sophia’s analysis of what’s behind the current wave of manager resignations across the workforce — and a look into the mysterious metaverse.

Learn how to combat manager burnout

© FT montage/Noun Project

Managers are joining their direct reports in switching jobs. In fact, managers are twice as likely as their staff to be at risk of attrition, according to a survey of over 400 managers by Humu, a California-based HR software company.

While the percentage of non-managers self-reporting burnout remained fairly consistent (and in some cases even decreased) in 2021, a Gallup survey found that manager burnout increased 7.5 percentage points throughout last year. Rachel Pacheco, a lecturer at the Wharton School and author of Bringing Up the Boss, says that many companies have underinvested in their managers. “It’s coming back to bite them,” she says, adding that many managers are placing their own feelings on the back burner in order to put on a happy face and deal with their direct reports’ stress and anxiety. But ignoring your own needs in an effort to better serve your team can actually make things worse.

If you’re a burnt out manager who’s considering switching roles, you’ll want to ensure that your next environment will actually be an improvement over your current one. In order to identify organisations where you’ll be better supported, Rachel advises looking for companies that are good at prioritisation and flexibility. Ask the hiring manager what the organisation’s expectations are for managers.

Another useful tactic is to ask the interviewer to tell you about the executive team, to see if management attributes are ranked as highly as other leadership attributes. That means listening out for phrases like “they develop their employees incredibly well,” “they’re great at motivating,” “they really champion people” rather than just how “brilliant and strategic” they are.

If you’re combatting employee burnout as a senior leader or HR manager, it’s important to make sure that the company is taking an active role in whatever support systems you design, rather than relying on individuals to do more, advises Rachel. So, for example, offering weekly meditation hours is a nice perk, but it “puts the onus of managing burnout on the employee,” rather than addressing the root causes.

She suggests designing an approach that’s tailored specifically for managers. Hold up management as a skill that’s just as important as marketing or engineering. Reward and celebrate people for being great managers. Form small manager cohorts so that peers have a place to talk about what they’re struggling with, and can get support from each other. Offer training or workshops around managerial skills like giving effective feedback or motivating teams.

With a well-executed support system, you’ll not only address the “boss loss” — you’ll be developing happier, more effective managers altogether. (Sophia Smith)

Listen in: Is the metaverse the future of work?

This week on the Working It podcast we ventured into the metaverse. These virtual worlds are being touted as the future of work (as well as of gaming and, well, life). It can be hard to visualise what we should expect to find when we finally put on our headsets, so I ask the experts: Wharton professor Lynn Wu and my FT colleague Dave Lee in San Francisco.

One of the most likely scenarios, it seems, will be sending ourselves to meetings or conferences as 3D avatars. Some companies are already onboarding and training staff in their own virtual worlds. Longer term, we will be able to beam ourselves into the office as holograms, as this video from Meta promises. It’s all scarily perfect, but gives a good idea of what a virtual workplace might look like.


Next week on the show, we’ll talk about overcoming class barriers at work with Annette King, CEO of Publicis Groupe UK, and my FT colleague Naomi Rovnick. (Isabel Berwick)

Are you excited by the idea of working in the metaverse? Let us know in this week’s poll.

Elsewhere in the world of work:

  1. Cold calls are back: The pandemic lulled cold callers into silence. Now, as offices refill, they’re back. And that feels extremely intrusive, writes Pilita Clark.

  2. Why presenteeism endures: Long hours at the office don’t translate to productivity or efficiency, but many managers and staff still believe it will give them a promotion or better job security.

  3. Top business schools, ranked: Demand for executive education courses at leading academic institutions has surged. Read the FT’s annual Executive Education ranking for full ratings and profiles.

  4. Vive la différence between work and play: France established the “right to disconnect” in 2017, which gives employees legal protections to ignore work calls outside business hours. Now the idea is being taken up across Europe.

  5. Beware the siren song of unlimited vacation time: Goldman Sachs recently gave its senior staff the ability to take as much time off as they’d like. This might seem unfair to junior employees — but studies show that the latter group might have the better deal.

Have you ever wanted to move abroad to pursue a career, but weren’t sure where to start? One such reader with international ambitions wrote to the FT’s Dear Jonathan advice column expressing worry about the language barrier. Check out Jonathan’s full response here.

Dozens of FT readers — many speaking from personal experience — also took to the comments section to advise this aspiring expat. Reader myr suggested enrolling in a graduate programme abroad:

You may want to consider completing an MBA in Hong Kong to help you build your network, your understanding of the market, and use part of the time to learn Mandarin.

Frankie Wong advocated for starting the job search from home:

Try and approach companies in your home country hiring for their operations in China. That should make things easier from work permit to personal income tax and accommodation.

And Matteo Giovannini pointed out the benefits of networking:

Through platforms such as LinkedIn, try to get in touch with foreigners who currently work in China and with China-based head hunters that have a better view on positions available to foreign candidates. In terms of location, Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen still remain the best options for finance positions.

And let us know . . . 

Have you (or your spouse) successfully jumped back into full-time work after pausing your career to care for your family? What worked for you in your efforts to transition back into the professional world? Let us know in the comments of Jonathan’s upcoming column — and check back on Monday for his reply.

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