Employees Want to See and Have The Presence of Their Leaders

Many of us have worked solely from home during the pandemic. Organizational leaders are now working hard to get people back to the office and plant floors. And some organizations are trialling a hybrid approach of working so many days at work and the balance from home.

However, in all this array of work arrangements, one thing has emerged that was not expected. Employees missed seeing their senior and executive leaders. Nearly 30% of employees during recent focus groups at a healthcare organization suggested leadership presence as one way they could improve employee recognition. Sometimes, the absence of senior leaders has taken a negative toll.

What are you doing to address leaders who appear to be missing in action?

Collective Presence 

A majority of organizations, especially during the pandemic, tried to create a collective presence of their leaders. They had individual leaders communicate to all staff through technology or other communication channels. 

Video Conferencing: Town Hall, or all hands meetings that were previously conducted in person, are now routinely done through a preferred video conferencing service. This allowed employees to tune in and be a part of things with their peers. But this can feel more like watching TV and staff might not feel any connection with their leaders.

Hybrid Meetings: Currently, organizational leaders are conducting hybrid meetings where some staff on location are in person and others are still joining in via video conferencing. Certainly, this creates some division, as each group deals with their own emotions on being at work or remaining at home. Those at home remain disconnected.

Newsletters: You can gain some small insights from your leaders as they write a few paragraphs in your PDF or online employee newsletter. But not everyone reads newsletters. And these written comments from your leaders are most likely ghost-written by a communications specialist.

Videos: Some leaders have aided the communication planning for their organization by creating videos shown online and on screens at different locations internally. These are often scripted videos read from a teleprompter. So, these are a one-sided broadcasted messages that are not very personal.

Broadcasts: Organizations use video conferencing technology to produce live broadcasted sessions with various leaders. They use these opportunities for open-mic sessions where leaders respond to previously submitted questions. Leaders will also answer live “ask me anything” questions from the employee audience online. These help bridge some of the presence gap, but not enough.

Podcasts: Similar to video broadcasts and teleconferencing, the communication planners for some organizations take the audio tracks from these videos and turn them into audio podcasts. Some have edited these using a host and then inserting clips from the original video messaging to address specific employee concerns. Still a one-sided delivery and not much presence felt.

Personalized Presence 

The challenge with collective presence is that it’s all that many employees have experienced over the past two-years. Even for collective presence to be really effective, you need it coupled with personal presence. It is not a case of either/or, it should be about “and” with having both.

In-Person Visits: Employees are being vocal about not having seen senior or executive leaders in a long time. Different industries have hired new people during the pandemic. These new staff have never met or seen their executive leaders. And if they did, it was often behind masks.

Recognition Giving: There is nothing that can replicate the wonder and gratitude of being recognized by a senior leader. While most employees say their most memorable recognition comes from their manager (28%) a senior leader or CEO also ranks highly (24%, Gallup). This can be for individual and team recognition. Recognition delivered by an executive leader means a lot.

Asking for Input: Senior leaders need to build in a percentage of their time to be out interacting with staff. Before instituting a major change, they should solicit the opinions of staff first. Sit down with employees in informal focus groups or even chat in the cafeteria. Find out the impact pending decisions would have on people before implementing.

Resolving Problems: Nothing beats active listening in person versus through technology. A leader can show genuine non-verbal signs of concern often missed through video. Senior leaders can either direct employees where to take their problem or promise to take the situation back with them and return and report back with a solution.

Offering Help: One thing that employees tell us is how nice it would be if leaders offered to help them. This is best for leaders whose background are in the same professional service or practice the employee is in. Getting into the trenches and getting their hands dirty in the thick and thin of things speaks volumes. Leaders must learn to ask how they can help.

Caring Concern: One of the most powerful effects of personal presence is showing care and concern for employees. Whether celebrating positive life events together like promotions, marriages, and births, or mourning losses of loved ones, sickness, and personal tragedies. Leaders showing up elevates morale for the individual and all those close to that team member.


Review the amount of personalized presence that your senior and executive leaders have with employees throughout the organization.

1. Have your executive and senior leadership team measure the time they spend in person with various teams and departments in your organization.

2. Emphasize the need for employees to feel connected with their leaders. Leaders should converse with employees, listen, and get back to them. Many staff don’t know their leaders anymore.

3. Make this focus on personalized presence a tool for communicating deserved recognition face-to-face. Have leaders commend and praise employees for the contributions they are making for the organization.

Recognition Reflection: How are leaders doing in delivering personalized presence to your staff?

Roy is no longer writing new content for this site (he has retired!), but you can subscribe to Engage2Excel’s blog as Engage2Excel will be taking Roy’s place writing about similar topics on employee recognition and retention, leadership and strategy.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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