HR vs. Line Managers: how to build a productive relationship in summary…

  • Building a productive relationship between HR and line managers is crucial for successful people management and wider organisational goals.
  • Effective communication and collaboration between HR and line managers can lead to better employee engagement and performance. But, HR changes in attitude – on both sides – are required for this to work
  • Line managers should look to prioritise successful people management and collaboration with HR to form a productive working relationship.
  • HR on the other hand, should provide support and guidance to line managers while also empowering them to take ownership of HR-related tasks. This includes equipping line managers with the right tools and skills, gathering regular feedback, and taking advantage of modern HR software.

The relationship between HR and line managers in an organisation can be complicated. Both have high expectations of one another, there’s friction when demands aren’t met, and sparks can fly when tension boils over.

Tension in the workplace is common of course, but it’s vital this particular relationship doesn’t become an obstacle to implementing HR strategy. Successful people management hinges on both parties working together. HR needs managers on their side – they’re the ones who turn HR policies into day-to-day practice, taking them from vision to reality.

Likewise, managers need HR’s backing and cooperation when, for instance, there’s a disciplinary issue in their team or a workplace investigation needs to be carried out.

So, what’s the solution? Changes in attitude from both parties can go a long way to building a more amicable partnership.

HR vs. Line Managers: how to build a productive relationship Cezanne HR blog

What line managers can do

Prioritise people management

There are still too many line managers who regard managing people as a low priority in their list of responsibilities. But managing and leading their team should actually be a key task. Studies have shown that line managers play a critical role in building employee engagement.

Line managers should spend time finding good ways to communicate with and motivate their team. They must provide the time and space for employees to approach them for any questions and guidance regarding their work, if they wish to bring the best out of their people.

Collaborate with HR regularly

It’s important managers and HR’s objectives are aligned, but this can be difficult if there’s little interaction between the two parties. It’s no good if the only time managers approach HR is if there’s a major problem that could have been mitigated beforehand.

Line managers should remember that HR has useful resources and information to help tackle problems early on and to ask for this when needed. For example, HR can help managers with tools or training for supporting employee mental wellbeing, or provide key insights on team absences.

What HR can do

Equip line managers with the right tools and skills

HR needs to make it a priority to equip line managers with the tools and skills to manage staff properly. HR can’t assume that all line managers somehow magically know how to ‘manage’. While some managers are naturals when it comes to communicating with, influencing and motivating people, there are just as many who struggle with these ‘softer’ management skills.

Often, people are promoted into management because of their technical expertise or their business nous, rather than for their people management capabilities. HR needs to recognise this and provide coaching and development opportunities to help newly appointed and existing managers improve their ‘people’ skills.

Ask for line manager feedback

HR must also recognise that managers may want a say in HR policy, considering they’re the ones implementing it at a grassroots level. View them as strategic partners of HR, not a barrier to overcome. Make them part of the process, listen to what they say and take their views on board.

Line managers often have the best insight into what the challenges of implementing company-wide HR initiatives are. Having this kind of information straight from the source can greatly help in refining HR plans and ideas.

Take advantage of technology

Some of the biggest causes of discontent in line managers about HR are time-consuming HR admin and difficulty accessing key people information. Data accuracy, security and compliance are extremely important for HR to maintain but being able to provide insights quickly to the business is also crucial.

Sophisticated HR software like Cezanne HR can solve many of the HR-related issues line managers have at the click of a mouse, reducing the strain between the two groups. It can guide managers through performance management processes, and help them administer sick and annual leave. It can give them an overview of the skills available in their team so they can plan resourcing and training accordingly. Technology, if used to its fullest extent, can put the people-related data that managers need at their fingertips.

While technology can’t replace the constructive conversations that need to happen between managers and their people, it can certainly do a lot to make life easier for line managers and to take the pressure off HR.

If you’d like to know more about managing workplace conflicts, here are some top tips to consider.people management hr

Author bio

Kim Holdroyd has an MSc in HRM and is passionate about all things HR and people operations, specialising in the employee life cycle, company culture, and employee empowerment. Her career background has been spent with various industries, including technology start-ups, gaming software, and recruitment.


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