Line managers play a vital role in determining the health, wellbeing and engagement of their team. To adopt a management approach that supports this, the CIPD has developed a series of quick and easy to use guidance and exercises specifically for line managers.
These can be used as part of a leadership or management development initiative, or on their own to help managers explore and develop their management capability.
A line manager’s behaviour and the culture they create in their team is the biggest influence on an employee’s work experience. By improving their management capabilities, managers can achieve better results, improving their own wellbeing as well as that of their team, achieving better results and benefitting the organisation as a whole.
Behaviours that support health, wellbeing and engagement
Research (funded by the CIPD and led by Affinity Health at Work) identified five key behavioural areas for line managers to support the health, wellbeing and engagement of those who work for them:
Being open, fair and consistent
This behaviour is about:
- Being positive and appreciative: taking a positive approach in interpersonal interactions, avoiding unhelpful criticism and blame
- Respect and openness: treating everyone with respect, consulting people and being open to other perspectives
- Remaining calm under pressure: managing emotions, pressures, deadlines and personal issues in order to stay calm and equanimous
- Being consistent, fair and kind: managing with fairness, impartiality, kindness, integrity and consistency.
Handling conflict and problems
This behaviour is about:
- Conflict management: dealing with employee conflicts early, effectively and in an impartial manner, including following up as appropriate
- Addressing people management issues: supporting people and addressing more severe issues, such as bullying
- Appropriate support: seeking support for yourself and the team, using organisational resources
Providing knowledge, clarity and guidance
This behaviour is about:
- Clarity about roles, expectations and feedback: demonstrating understanding of your own and employees’ roles, clarifying expectations and providing clear feedback
- Guidance and advice: giving advice and guidance when appropriate and making time for people
- Reliability: being decisive, following up on action points and taking responsibility for problem solving
Building and sustaining relationships
This behaviour is about:
- Concern for wellbeing: showing empathy, concern and consideration for employees
- Interest in individuals: taking an interest in employees as individuals
- Sociability: interacting with employees in a friendly and sociable way
- Availability: providing opportunities for employees to speak one-to-one
This behaviour is about:
- Exploring and actively supporting development: taking time to discuss employees’ career development and actively supporting them to develop
- Development opportunities: offering opportunities and arranging career progression and development for employees
Further detail on these behaviours can be found in this downloadable table.
On this page, you will find information about how you, as a people professional, can support managers with their development process using the support materials based on these key behavioural areas.
Why is line manager behaviour important?
Extensive research shows that good line management is vital for employee health, wellbeing and engagement. For example, CIPD research found that poor management style is one of the main causes of work-related stress; and there is considerable research showing the link between different management/ leadership approaches and employee health, wellbeing and engagement outcomes.
Being a line manager is a busy and demanding role, yet managers are often time-poor and receive little people management training, so handling issues can prove challenging. Adopting a positive management approach will save time – by either preventing issues from arising or dealing with those that do arise early and effectively – and will bring many other benefits, as discussed below.
Line managers’ approach is vital because:
- Their behaviour will affect the team’s level of engagement and their wellbeing or stress. For example, when you are managed by someone who is consistent, fair and kind and builds a good relationship with you, that can really enhance your sense of wellbeing and desire to do a good job.
- They influence their team’s exposure to organisational sources of stress or wellbeing and act as ‘gatekeeper’ to their team’s view of the organisation. So if the organisational culture is critical and unappreciative, line managers can mitigate that effect on their team by taking a positive approach, showing appreciation, by being positive about their work, and avoiding sharing unhelpful critical comments made by others. Passing on criticism and adding in their own critical comments will do the opposite.
- They have a key role in identifying and tackling people management issues in their team, and will be central to managing issues such as: employee sickness absence and return to work; supporting employees’ mental and physical health problems at work; managing conflict if this arises in their team; and managing and preventing poor performance by giving people clarity, guidance and advice.
These factors all show that management style can make all the difference to whether a team feels healthy, positive and engaged. Importantly, having a healthy, positive and engaged team is not only a ‘good thing’ in itself, it also influences how people perform. If employees are feeling healthy and engaged, their performance is more likely to be good, they are less likely to go on sick leave, so they will be at work more of the time, they will feel more motivated to do a good job, and they will be in a better position to deal with problems that arise.
Each of the five key behavioural areas covered by these support materials will contribute to creating a healthy and engaged team in different ways, for example:
- by being positive and appreciative, consistent, kind and fair, concerned about people’s wellbeing and interested in people, line managers can create a positive, supportive culture;
- by providing clarity about roles, guidance and advice, they can ensure people are in the best possible position to do their job;
- by supporting employees’ development, they can engage and motivate people to do well and progress.
When managers manage people well, they build effective working relationships with the individuals in their team and create an environment that is open, respectful, kind, fair and consistent, in which people feel ‘psychologically safe’. Psychological safety is where people feel they can speak up and share concerns, questions or ideas freely without being criticised or made to feel ‘wrong’ for doing so. Research shows that psychological safety has huge benefits for learning, engagement and performance.
Good relationships with the team and creating a culture of psychological safety also mean that the manager will be in a better position to manage tricky people issues. For example, if a member of the team is struggling with a mental health problem, has suffered a bereavement, or is dealing with other sensitive, difficult circumstances, they are more likely to talk to their manager about it if that manager has established a trusting, safe working relationship and environment by building and sustaining relationships and being open, fair and consistent. If the manager is good at handling conflict and problems, they are in a better position to prevent conflict arising in their team and to tackle it early, avoiding it escalating and becoming more problematic. In all cases of tricky people management issues, working on the behaviours outlined in these support materials will enable managers to spot issues that arise and address them early and effectively.
Note: This does not mean that line managers become their team’s counsellor, therapist, best friend or confidant. Team members need others to support them in those roles. What it does mean is that the line manager is part of their team members’ support network, can help them with the work aspects of the situation and can ensure that work is not part of the problem – in fact, work can actually be part of the solution by building their confidence and sense of purpose.
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected many aspects of life and work. People have experienced a myriad of emotions – anxiety, uncertainty, relief, excitement, grief, loss, satisfaction, drama, boredom, gratitude, care, overwhelm, compassion, numbness, confusion, insight – sometimes all in one day! There are a range of issues still to be faced, including anxieties around returning to work, fears over the financial fallout, questions about continuing restrictions, uncertainties in how to navigate the ‘new normal’, and concerns about exposure to the virus.
The experience has been different for everyone, so it is important not to make any assumptions. However, a few things are becoming clear:
- The risk of mental health problems has increased – there were already high levels of mental health problems (1 in 6 people experiencing a mental health problem every week) and the pandemic has both exacerbated pre-existing problems and caused problems for many who hadn’t experienced them before. For example, the proportion of people experiencing some form of depression in the UK in June 2020 was almost double that in the nine months leading up to March 2020.
- General health and wellbeing has been affected– including musculoskeletal problems due to uncomfortable work conditions at home, reduced access to health care services, changed lifestyles, exercise, nutrition etc.
- A lot of people are dealing with changes to their working situation – temporary or permanent shifts in the amount and type of work they are doing, where they are working, the contact they have with co-workers and so on.
- Inequality, unfairness and injustice have been highlighted – the burden of and fallout from the pandemic has fallen more heavily on some groups than others, including those from ethnic minority backgrounds, those with health problems, those with lower incomes and lower levels of education, those with caring responsibilities, the over 65s and the under 30s.
What has become clear during the pandemic is that the role of line managers has become even more crucial for employees’ health, wellbeing and engagement. Research shows that employees who had less contact with their line manager during the initial months of the pandemic had poorer mental health. Supportive, positive management approaches are imperative for protecting and supporting people in dealing with the current challenges and opportunities. The basics of good people management should always be in place but are of paramount importance now. Managers need to show all five of key behavioural areas to ensure that inclusion, consideration for employee wellbeing, compassion, care, empathy, understanding and trust are prioritised across organisations and workplaces in this time of need.
What’s in it for me and my organisation?
Ensuring that line managers are managing people well has a range of benefits for you as a people professional and for your organisation.
Firstly, when employees are healthy, engaged and performing, the organisation is likely to get better results: this might be in terms of productivity, customer/patient care, sales or financial returns. It may also be about better employee retention, reduced sickness absence or fewer grievances and disciplinaries, thereby reducing costs to the organisation and saving time for you in not having to deal with these issues. Better results and reduced costs are a source of success and satisfaction for the organisation, the employees and for you as a people professional. Research backs this up: there is substantial evidence showing that employee health, wellbeing and engagement are important for organisational success.
Secondly, within an organisation each individual and team interacts with others in a dynamic, complex and adaptive way to create an ever-evolving system and culture. The management style of each manager and the health, wellbeing, engagement and performance of each employee are therefore part of the complex range of feedback loops and influences that make up the organisational system. Those who are managing people well can therefore create a positive series of feedback loops that support a positive organisational culture and a thriving organisation.
Thirdly, when line managers are managing in positive, healthy ways they can prevent people management issues from arising, so neither the line manager nor the HR team has to give time and energy to dealing with them. For example:
- When line managers’ approach creates support and collaboration, for example by building and sustaining relationships, conflict between team members is less likely to occur and people are likely to help one another out if needed.
- When line managers provide people with clarity about tasks, expectations and how they are doing, the members of their team are less likely to focus on the wrong task, do things that are not wanted/intended, or get into a poor performance spiral.
- When line managers’ behaviour is appreciative, positive, consistent, and kind, and they remain calm under pressure, team members are less likely to get stressed.
- When line managers treat people fairly, openly and with respect, grievances and complaints are less likely to occur.
- When line managers support people’s development, they are less likely to leave unexpectedly and leave you struggling to recruit in a hurry.
Finally, if problems do emerge, line managers can deal with them at an early stage. If managers know their team well and have built good relationships, they will be better able to spot conflict, mental health problems, people struggling with their work or with non-work challenges. When people trust their manager, they are more likely to tell them about these things as soon as they start happening. Being in a position to address issues or refer people to appropriate support early on means they are less likely to escalate into major problems. This means that the manager is more likely to be able to handle the issue themselves and either not need input from HR or be able to seek support from HR early in the process. This will save you and them a huge amount of time – the time that gets wasted when dealing with such issues at a later stage when they have become more serious or difficult.
The importance of compassion, care and kindness
It is important to recognise that this is not just about what line managers are doing, but also the authenticity with which they do it. Whether a line manager’s behaviour is seen as authentic and supportive will depend on their attitudes, mindset, views and values. These underlying factors can’t be ‘faked’. To be effective managers need to have an attitude of genuine care, to listen deeply to each individual, to understand our common humanity, and to explore individual needs with respect, compassion and kindness.
Compassion, care and kindness are not about being soft or wishy-washy or even liking everyone. A key message is: you can be a professional manager and care – in fact the best managers do care. One way of looking at this is to see the importance of combining wisdom and compassion. In this context, wisdom is about being able to:
- See the broader picture, recognise that our view is just one of many ways of seeing things
- Recognise how interdependent and connected everything is (people, teams, organisations, the environment etc)
- Balance the demands of the job, organisation, shareholders and other stakeholders with the need to take care of and engage your employees
- Know how to take difficult decisions and be firm in order to get tough things done while at the same time showing respect and kindness to individuals.
Compassion without wisdom can lead to avoiding saying or doing difficult things, but wisdom without compassion can lead to being clever and strategic but unkind – for example, putting short-term results before people's wellbeing. When we have both wisdom and compassion, we can make hard decisions and get things done, whilst still being caring and benevolent.
To manage the range of people management issues they are likely to face managers need to feel confident to have sensitive, supportive conversations with team members. In addition, they may be managing these people remotely, or only seeing them face-to-face occasionally, and therefore relying largely on phone and videoconference to build relationships and have supportive conversations. Capability in the key behaviours outlined in these support materials, underpinned by an attitude of care, respect, compassion, wisdom and kindness, is a vital foundation for this. It will enable managers to take a positive approach, recognise different employee needs and manage in ways that are inclusive.
How can we support managers to do these things?
Managers cannot be expected to develop these capabilities – and the compassion and wisdom described above – purely by being given the title ‘manager’. Indeed, people skills are not always a consideration when someone is promoted into a management role. Managers are often left to learn on the job and may see the people management side of their role as an added extra rather than core to their role. Instead, they need to be equipped for the role through development, training, coaching and support and enabled to see people management as a crucial part of their role.
CIPD research shows that improving line managers’ people management capabilities is seen as increasingly important and is a high priority for organisations, but that too few organisations are providing managers with the development they need. Line management training appears to be patchy at best, and often focuses on the legal aspects rather than behavioural people skills.
CIPD research has explored the factors that affect the success of development programmes and that support the transfer of learning from such programmes; it also looked at contextual factors that impact on the relationship between manager behaviour and employee engagement, health and wellbeing outcomes. The following provides a summary of these factors, but more detail can be found in the research report.
The key factors that affect the success of management development programmes and support transfer and sustainability of learning into the workplace include:
- Using a range of methods to support development, for example workshops, feedback, experiential and on the job learning, coaching, mentoring, and action learning
- A programme that unfolds over time (not just a one-off activity)
- Integration of the programme into the organisation’s culture and practices
- Setting multiple challenging, but achievable, goals for participants
- Senior leaders and managers being genuinely supportive of the programme
- Opportunities for participants to apply their learning in their role
- Participants valuing the learning opportunity
- Participants being keen to be supportive of their team and acting with integrity
- Participants being supported to feel confident in their management skills and in their learning from the programme.
The contextual factors likely to impact upon the relationship between manager behaviour and employee engagement, health and wellbeing outcomes can be summarised as follows:
- Senior managers who role-model and champion health, wellbeing and engagement; engage employees in inclusive and collaborative ways; and role-model positive management behaviour
- Supportive organisational culture that includes open dialogue, safety to talk about work related issues without fear of stigma and high levels of employee voice; a climate of mutual respect and willingness to challenge; recognition of individuals; and a climate that is supportive of and knowledgeable about employee health and safety
- Organisational structure and culture of empowerment, including offering opportunity, information, support, resources, formal and informal power, latitude and autonomy in their jobs, and support to solve problems when they occur
- Accessible, helpful and supportive organisational policies, processes and work environment
- Clear standards and expectations of managers and their behaviour; and appropriate job demands that enable a focus on people management (not just operational tasks).
This and subsequent research generated a range of checklists, case studies and resources designed to help people professionals and organisations implement management development that supports employee health, wellbeing and engagement. These can be used to create a supportive context for rolling out the line manager support materials as outlined below.
How do I use these support materials?
As a people professional, you can use these support materials to help line managers explore and develop their management capability. Your role will be to:
- Set the context for management development
- Motivate line managers to use the materials
- Give line managers access to the support materials
- Support line managers on their development journey.
1. Set the context for management development
As mentioned, the organisational context in which management development takes place has a key impact on outcomes. To explore whether your organisational context is likely to be supportive of management development, you might find it helpful to review the ‘Developing managers for sustainable employee engagement, health and wellbeing’ materials. The maturity model can help you diagnose where your organisation currently stands, the ‘at a glance’ checklist overview can help you understand the factors that are important, and then you can use one of the detailed checklists to explore what to do in order to be as supportive as possible of management development.
Examples of actions you may find helpful to create a supportive organisational context are:
- Exploring how best to integrate the manager behaviours with the organisation’s culture, vision, purpose, strategy and practices
- Reviewing and/or setting clear standards and expectations of managers and their behaviour; and reviewing managers’ job demands to enable a focus on people management (not just operational tasks)
- Reviewing your organisational culture, structure, policies, processes and work environment to find ways to make them supportive of the key management behaviours and management development
- Being aware that organisational change (for example, mergers, redundancies and cutbacks) can get in the way of managers being caring and supportive and doing all you can to mitigate the negative effect.
2. Motivate line managers to use the materials
Being a line manager is a busy and demanding role, and managers are often time-poor. It’s important to create motivation and enthusiasm amongst line managers to encourage them to use these support materials. If you just send the materials to managers it is unlikely they will take the time to engage with them in a meaningful way. Instead you should prepare the ground carefully so that managers expect the materials, have an interest and are motivated to use them – and that they regard the development process as something that is relatively quick and easy to do and of benefit to them.
As identified in the research outlined above, management development is more likely to be successful when participants are keen to be supportive of their team and value the learning opportunity. This means setting a context in which managers are aware of the benefits of supporting their team to be healthy and engaged, and of the value that developing their management behaviour can bring.
You may want to consider the following:
- Make a business case for why employee health, wellbeing and engagement is important for performance and organisational success, and for why managers are vital in determining the health, wellbeing and engagement of those who work for them. You can use the information given above for the general arguments and use data from within your organisation to make it specific to the line manager’s particular situation (for example, using sickness absence, employee engagement, people management issues such as conflict, grievances and employee turnover).
- Provide stories and case studies that help managers connect at an emotional level to the importance of employee health, wellbeing and engagement and the role that good line management plays in that.
- Communicate how developing manager capability fits with the vision, purpose, strategy and culture of the organisation.
- Engage and collaborate with line managers (or perhaps a representative sub-group) to get their input, ideas and advice on when and how to roll out the development programme, how to maximise buy-in and what support managers will need.
- Identify and engage with those who have informal power and influence within your organisation. Ask these people to champion the need for employee health, wellbeing and engagement, the need for management approaches throughout the organisation that will support this, and the importance of management development for creating a consistent, positive management approach across the organisation.
- Make the whole organisation (not just the line managers) aware of the programme and of what you are aiming to do by developing managers’ capability. This will help build momentum and expectations that can engage and motivate managers.
- Consider who is best to communicate initial information to the managers you aim to support. It might be helpful if a senior manager champion or someone from the line managers’ business area sends the first communication or gives a verbal introduction.
- Consider how best to ‘launch’ the development programme. For example, would it be helpful to have a meeting with the line managers? Would an introductory webinar be helpful to take them through what is available?
- Provide contextual information that situates the development programme within the line managers’ work (for example, particular market pressures, targets or challenges they are facing).
3. Give line managers access to the materials
In addition to this introduction, these support materials include:
Introduction for line managers: this outlines the vital role that managers play and how they can take a management approach that supports good health, wellbeing and engagement in their team. You can disseminate this to all line managers in your organisation.
Behavioural alignment quiz: Once managers have read the introduction, the quiz will help them reflect on the extent to which their management approach aligns with the five areas of behaviour set out in the framework. Responding to the quiz should only take a few minutes and when the manager presses the ‘submit’ button, their answers will be used to generate a recommendations report.
Step-by-step guidance: once the manager has their recommendations report, the step-by-step guidance will help them use the recommendations to develop their management approach through a series of simple steps:
- Reflecting and getting feedback – for which the questions for reflection/feedback may be helpful
- Identifying strengths and areas to develop
- Planning action – for which the action plan sheet and the exercises for each of the behavioural areas (see more below) may be helpful
- Identifying the barrier most likely to get in the way – for which the exercise on overcoming their most likely barrier may be helpful
- Taking action
- Reviewing, celebrating and taking further action.
Questions for reflection/feedback: These questions can be used to reflect and gather feedback on your capability to manage employees in ways that are good for their health, wellbeing and engagement.
Exercises: short exercises covering the five behavioural areas are designed to help managers reflect in greater depth on that particular area and to provide inspiration and ideas on actions that they can take to develop their capability.
Overcoming barriers quiz: This quiz helps to identify the barriers that may stop someone from being a positive, supportive manager and offers recommendations on how to overcome these barriers.
Action plan: The action plan helps line managers to identify a few simple actions to build on their strengths and address certain behavioural areas.
Familiarise yourself fully with all the materials available before disseminating and promoting them to line managers in your organisation. Rather than leaving managers to follow the links, you may find it helpful to play an active role in supporting line managers to access the materials, for example, by communicating regularly and directing them to each part of the materials. You could schedule emails, meetings or webinars to highlight each step in the process.
4. Support line managers on their development journey
None of the steps in the process should take long. The recommendation is that a line manager plans in short bursts of time over a week or two to read the introduction, complete the quiz, reflect and get feedback, identify strengths and development areas, and plan action (including action to overcome potential barriers as appropriate). They can then allow a few months to actually take the actions planned, before reviewing where they have got to, celebrating success and planning further actions.
As a people professional, you can play a vital role in supporting managers to find the time and maintain momentum. You can help remind and motivate the managers to use the materials by providing a series of communications to tie in with the stages of the development process. It may be helpful to make at least some of these communications interactive, for example, individual or group meetings, coaching sessions, webinars or calls, as well as written emails and messages. Through these communications, you help make it clear that management development is a process that unfolds over time, not just a one-off activity, so they are not expected to do it all immediately, but to continue to engage with it over a period of weeks and months.
Management development is more likely to be successful when it includes a range of methods, so you might want to consider:
- Setting up coaching and/or mentoring for managers to get individual support
- Bringing managers together in action learning groups to enable them to support each other and hold one another to account
- Exploring if there are any areas to develop and, for those areas, providing additional development input in the form of workshops, webinars or other activity
- Offering support with anything that managers find challenging or confusing.
Building managers’ confidence in their management skills and in their learning from the programme will also be important, so it may be helpful to engage with the managers’ manager(s) to encourage them to give positive feedback about the progress the managers are making.
Finally, it may be helpful to think about how you will measure and celebrate success. This might be through organisational metrics or through individual feedback when they achieve their goals. Helping the managers, their managers, their teams and others in the organisation see the beneficial effect of healthy, engaging manager behaviour can create a positive feedback loop that helps sustain usage and build the effectiveness of using the development programme over time.
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Use this quiz to find out how your management approach aligns to the behaviours that support health, wellbeing and engagement and receive recommendations to improve your management approach