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What can dating teach us about management?

  • 6 Min Read

Generational blending in the workplace calls for serving the needs of different generations through open communication, listening, and cross-generational training and leadership practices.

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As Valentine’s Day approaches, we’re alerted again to the new dating trends (hello, ‘slow-dating’), terms (know your zombie-ing from your ground-hogging?), dating disasters (from the cringe-worthy to the downright hilarious) and, of course, those rare matches made in heaven.

But what can trends in the dating world teach us about managing the changing expectations, values and behaviour of employees in the workplace?


According to the dating app Bumble, singles are now increasingly open to connections with both older and younger generations, a trend reflected in the increasingly cross-generational workplace. Serving the needs of these different generations is challenging organisations and their leadership, training and HR practices—the labour management model we’ve relied on for the past century no longer sits comfortably.

New generations demand open and honest communication; they want to be heard and involved. Older generations may feel daunted by the pace of change, but it’s important to recognise the immense contribution that this seasoned group has to offer by supporting the advancement of the younger generations within our workforce and helping to improve overall productivity.

Betterment burnout

Last year, 55% of singles felt pressured to seek personal improvement by listening to myriad self-help podcasts, learning new skills or starting a side hustle. But fatigue for constant self-improvement is starting to show as 1 in 4 people are now opting to focus on joy over personal development reflecting wider attitudes to work/life balance, now the top trait that Gen Z and Millennials admire in a peer.

Younger generations emphasise feeling happy at work, rather than sticking with a job that makes them miserable. A key predictor of happiness at work is feeling trusted to do your job and being appreciated for the work that you do.

Managers must ensure that they reflect this by honing their ability to give appreciative feedback and celebrate success whilst allowing their teams the autonomy to make decisions and take ownership of their work.

Bringing out the best

A relationship only works when you bring out the best in one another – not the worst.

The manager-employee relationship should be the same. Indeed, this skill is arguably one of the most, if not the most, important to master as a manager. That’s because true people management is about enabling others, i.e. helping them to flourish, to do their best work and not, as outdated management models presume, making sure the work ‘gets done’ by repeatedly stepping in to solve every problem and making all the decisions.

Not only does this management mode discourage independent problem-solving by employees (leading to disengagement and lower productivity) but also it’s part of the reason that over half of all our managers are burnt out.


In the same way that modern daters flit from one relationship (or ‘situationship’) to another, Generation Z is switching jobs at a rate that’s 134% higher than in 2019 according to LinkedIn.

Job-hopping is typical of a generation unafraid to vote with its feet, and retaining talent in a fluid job market is a particular challenge for employers. To help stem the haemorrhage, managers and leaders need to respond to Gen Z’s desire to be ‘coached not directed’ by learning to adopt coaching-related behaviours into their everyday management approach.

By developing more of a coaching mindset and a greater awareness of day-to-day situations, they can become alert to those coachable moments where asking insightful questions can encourage the thinking and development of team members.

Integrating Operational Coaching® into the flow of work in this way enhances all-important problem-solving skills and builds confidence in better decision-making before a manager needs to be involved—a more efficient and longer-lasting way of managing people. The key is to encourage others to recognise their contribution and take ownership of this, which can increase a sense of belonging and purpose at work.

Ditch command-and-control

A relationship built on control is never a good thing. The same can be said of the manager-team member dynamic. Traditional command-and-control models of management can suck the life out of a team’s creativity, ideation and productivity, not to mention adding more to the workload of managers.

Instead, try adopting an enquiry-led approach to management, which involves actively listening when a team member brings up a problem, giving them full attention (no side-barring here, i.e. looking at your phone or emails simultaneously) and acknowledging that you’re ready to help them work through it.

The key is to ask questions purely for the benefit of your direct report’s thinking to help them work through possible solutions, rather than asking diagnostic questions for you to solve the problem yourself.

Ghosting vs Productivity paranoia

In the hybrid world of remote and flexible working, employees’ primary communication has shifted from in-person to Teams or Slack.

Consequently, managers are forced to tread a fine line between ghosting their team (not being available or providing enough support) and productivity paranoia, defined by Microsoft as leaders fearing that productivity is lost due to employees not working, leading to micromanagement.

Managers can combat this by remembering that their primary goal is to help their team do their best work, having open and honest conversations and actively listening during these conversations (no matter whether you’re behind a screen or in person).


Ever been frustrated when a friend keeps going for the same type of person and then wonders why each relationship always ends the same?

That’s ‘groundhogging’ and it’s similar to what’s happening in workplaces across the globe – the same people are being promoted into management time and time again due to their performance in a technical aspect of their role rather than for their noted people skills.

A shocking 82% of managers are regarded as accidental in this way and receive no formal training for their new role. But with research showing that 70% of the variance in employee engagement measures is attributable to the manager’s behaviour alone and that managers have a bigger impact on the mental well-being of team members than their relationship with their partner, why are we not showing the role of manager the love and value it deserves by investing in proper development?

For many of us, our confidence, self-esteem, self-worth and even our sense of identity are nourished by our performance at work and in our careers. And in a changing world of work, perhaps there are lessons for management in the dating trends that rule our social lives. It’s about us as people who are at the heart of both.

Laura Ashley-Timms is the COO of performance consultancy Notion, creators of the multi-award-winning  STAR® Manager programme being pursued by managers in over 40 countries. She also the co-author of new management best seller The Answer is a Question.

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