Report highlights need for better support for line managers

A new report from the Institute for Employment Studies outlines how HR needs to do more to support line managers – and not just in the form of providing additional training.

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HR needs to metaphorically ‘hug and not squeeze’ line managers if organisations want to lower health-related sickness absence and stimulate productivity growth, according to a new report.

The Squeezed Middle: Why we should be hugging and not squeezing line managers from the Institute for Employment Studies says that line managers are under increased work-related pressure from a number of directions and need better support. It highlights that:

  • Line managers can feel pressure from those who directly report to them who need support, coaching, motivation, performance monitoring.  This requires the use of ‘soft skills’ and the management of expectations can be both emotionally and practically damaging.
  • Senior managers can be a source of pressure – line managers are expected to bring ‘policies to life’, set targets and maintain organisational standards.
  • Line managers have an increased role in the implementation and delivery of HR practices: performance management, rewards, learning and development discussions, appraisals and agreeing training needs.
  • Line managers increasingly engage with additional organisational tasks including implementing discipline and grievance procedures, budgetary responsibilities and career development.
  • Line managers also face pressures from external clients, needing to maintain a suitable level of customer or client satisfaction, present a positive brand and be aware of competition

Research by the CIPD has suggested that 40 per cent of organisations reported inadequate lack of training of line managers and 26 per cent of organisations do not prioritise line management training.

But report author Dr Zofia Bajorek argues that rectifying this ‘training gap’ is not going solve the problem. “There is still an increased bandwidth of tasks and this reduction in both time and support to complete them can lead to managers feeling ‘dumped upon’.

“As a quick fix, line managers may just complete measurable outcomes, letting the more complex and time consuming ‘people management’ duties fall to the wayside.”

Recent research has suggested that employees managed by line managers with poor physical and psychological health also reported having poor health. The IES research says that equipping line managers with the skills to cope with their stress and workload is also important for improving the productivity and wellbeing of the employees who report to them.

Dr Bajorek added: “Organisations need to recognise that ‘good line management’ matters – and how employees are managed is crucial to organisational success.

“More thought may need to be given into how line managers are recruited or promoted (taking into account both personal and technical competencies); employers need to be very clear about good line management skills, what good behaviour in the organisation should look like, and provide appropriate support to managers to obtain these.”



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