Employee Experience
Learning & Development
6 min read

How HR can support first-time managers through a crisis


Rachel Bolsu

Senior Content Marketing Manager, Culture Amp

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Becoming a manager for the first time is challenging enough on its own. And adding crisis or hardship into the mix can put new managers to the test. This is why it’s crucial for HR leaders to provide new managers with the training, resources, and support needed to guide their team through difficult situations.

In addition to being a key resource for their direct reports, managers serve as representatives of the larger company culture and should be equipped to amplify it in their daily interactions. Employees look to managers to model how they should be responding to different situations. So in order to develop an intentional company culture, people leaders must ensure that new managers receive the tools and training needed to lead thoughtfully.

Given the current climate, we’ve decided to compile a list of ways to ensure first-time managers are equipped with the tools to navigate a crisis.

What it means to be a new manager

Becoming a manager for the first time is hard. Inc. reports that 47 percent of managers don’t receive any training when they take a new leadership role. This indicates that nearly half of managers have had to essentially build the plane while flying it. 

It’s a major shift to go from being an individual contributor to a manager. Where they were once focused on the day to day tasks, they’re suddenly responsible for the big picture and the wellbeing of the team, while often still having individual contributor responsibilities. New managers naturally face many “first-time” situations, such as handling performance management, personnel issues, goal setting, feedback, and team accountability.

With so many responsibilities, new managers might experience imposter syndrome, or the feeling that they’re not qualified for the role they’re in. Whether or not you have a formal training program in place, it’s important to destigmatize asking for help. Make sure first-time managers have access to mentors and resources that they feel comfortable leaning on as they learn the ropes.

How to support new managers through a crisis

During periods of change, challenge, or crisis, HR teams and experienced leaders should be prepared to work closely with managers who are dealing with this for the first time. While new managers will likely need the most support, don’t neglect more tenured managers who are managing through a crisis for the first time. In times of uncertainty, it’s “all hands on deck” and anyone at any level should feel comfortable asking for help.

1. Set regular check-ins

First-time managers should have recurring meetings with a mentor or an HR representative. Especially during times of crisis, situations will inevitably arise where new managers need support. Regular check-ins reduce the stigma of not knowing what to do and create a safe space to talk through the challenges they face and identify situations.

2. Amplify vulnerability

While leaders should be careful not to create fear among their team members, encourage managers to share their own challenges with their teams. A new manager who tells their team, “I’ve never been through something like this before, but I’m going to do my best,” will likely be more effective in creating team cohesion and empathy than one pretending to have all the answers. So make sure you encourage managers at all levels to ask their teams what they could do to better provide support.

3. Remind them that they have a manager, too

All managers face the new challenge of balancing their own emotional response to a crisis with the need to lead their team. As a first-time manager, it can be easy to forget that there is a line of leaders behind them to offer support. Remind managers that they’re still someone’s direct report, and encourage them to bring their own challenges and fears to their manager. This lightens their burden and enables them to be strong for their team.

4. Adapt existing manager training

Revisit all of the materials you typically use when training new managers. Identify areas that could benefit from additional resources relevant to the crisis. For example, you might drill into emotional intelligence and empathy more than you would in a typical training. As more resources become available to navigate periods of crisis, share these widely, and incorporate them into your existing curriculum.

5. Empower managers to act as leaders

Although it’s crucial to offer new managers the support and resources they need while learning the ropes, it’s also important to show them you trust their judgment. There’s a reason they got promoted, so give them the power (within reason) to make decisions for their direct reports. Managers are on the front lines when it comes to individual needs. Therefore they have the most contextual knowledge and are best placed to offer schedule flexibility, special accommodations, or other support as they help their team navigate the crisis.

6. Create a manager support community

There is no textbook for managing through a crisis, so an open dialogue is critical to navigating rapid change. Why not create a channel for managers to connect, communicate, ask questions, offer encouragement, and share learnings? Individuals are only as strong as their community, and this holds true for managers and leaders. 

7. Ask for feedback

Just as you should survey new hires, it’s important to survey first-time managers to learn how to better support them and identify gaps in the onboarding process. Encourage first-time managers to do a 360 survey after 3-6 months on the job. During periods of crisis, you might even survey first-time managers as a separate group, or break out their responses from a broader survey based on role demographics. This provides insights for HR teams to better support them.

We’re all in this together

Crises don’t discriminate. Employees, managers, HR, and executives alike all face the impact of these situations. However, first-time managers are likely to experience an added layer of pressure compared to their more senior counterparts. And since managers set the tone for the broader workforce, creating a support system for them will go a long way in ensuring your organization’s culture remains strong, even during a global pandemic.


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