How HR and senior NHS leaders can support employee engagement: New IES paper

IES News

12 Jul 2018

Supporting line managers to foster engagement

Strategies to support line managers in driving employee engagement are identified in a new IES paper written on behalf of NHS Employers. The guide, authored by IES principal associate, Dilys Robinson, suggests ways in which HR and senior leaders in the NHS can help alleviate the key barriers to line managers supporting employee engagement and offers transferable learnings for organisations in other sectors.

Drawing on IES’ extensive research on employee engagement and case study examples from a variety of sectors, the IES-authored guide makes a compelling case for the key role of line managers in driving employee engagement across their teams, whilst identifying how HR can help ensure that line managers are able to fulfil this role.

Line managers rarely join an organisation with the specific aim of being a manager. This difficulty can be compounded by a reluctance of new line managers to admit that they need help. HR can often find this hard to understand, given that HR practitioners are by virtue of their role focused on people management.

Line managers in the NHS and beyond face competing pressures which can often impact on their time spent as a line manager. Workloads, targets and line management reporting are all cited by managers in the NHS as aspects of their working lives that impact on their ability to engage in people management activities. Elsewhere, there are questions raised around whether line management training focuses enough on the positive aspects of engagement, such as developing a coaching style and knowledge of engaging behaviours. Relatedly, some managers struggle to communicate the concerns of their staff upwards or communicate new targets and decisions successfully to their reportees.


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In response to these challenges, the IES paper highlights actionable solutions for HR and senior leaders. If mangers feel positive and calm, these sentiments can pass on to their teams. The paper therefore suggests that training on personal wellbeing, such as mindfulness or positive psychology, could help to improve wellbeing amongst teams and, in turn, improve employee engagement. HR and senior leaders can also ask themselves whether communication channels are working, both in terms of line managers communicating with their reportees in an appropriate manner, knowing who to speak to for help, and questioning whether line managers are able to give feedback up the line.

HR must also recognise the role it has to play. Is HR referring line managers to the intranet or are there support systems in place, from HR or a more seasoned manager to talk a given situation over?

With reference to relevant case study examples, the paper also offers some exploratory ideas that HR teams and senior leaders can consider. Buddying, celebrating success, networking for line managers across departments and forums are all discussed as other potential solutions to develop line manager’s capability and improve shared learning across teams and departments.

Download the paper