Today’s line managers are having a tough time right now. They’re traversing incredibly difficult working landscapes, with seemingly endless waves of negative trends sweeping through workforces.

Take Gallup’s recent research into levels of employee engagement. It revealed only 10% of employees in the UK are engaged with their job. When you think about it, that’s a truly shocking statistic! It’s clear managers in companies of all sizes are finding themselves having to work in very unpredictable, uncertain and unengaging working environments.

Discover how HR can support line managers with workplace satisfaction and engagement in this blog from Cezanne HR

As a result, it’s hard not to feel empathy for people managers. After all, their roles are critical for businesses getting the best out of their staff and will certainly be feeling the pressure. But, here’s the thing: could it be the case that plummeting levels of satisfaction and engagement are stemming from line managers and business leaders? Let’s look at the evidence…

Line managers and business leaders play a crucial role in workplace satisfaction and engagement

We were keen to find out why levels of workplace satisfaction and engagement are so low. So, we carried out our own research into the issue, and it turns out senior leaders and line managers may be playing a large – if inadvertent part – in the current engagement malaise.

When we asked employees in the UK and Ireland if they agreed their organisation’s leadership energised them to come to work and do their best, less than half (46%) agreed they did. In addition, our research also found that only 55% of employees felt hard work was recognised by their employers, and just 56% of them felt supported by their line managers.

Looking at the wider global picture, further research by Gallup estimates that line managers account for around a 70% variance in employee engagement across businesses. It seems this variation is responsible (or at least responsible in part) for some of the poor employee engagement seen both in the UK and globally.

Now, it’s important to say at this point that it’s unfair to blame poor levels of engagement purely on managers. After all, our own research also highlighted the fact that nearly 60% of employees believed senior leaders in their business contributed to a positive workplace experience.

However, the research we’ve highlighted in this article does indicate that managers and senior leaders are a huge contributing factor to engagement and satisfaction levels. So, what can HR do to turn the tide, and better support their leaders in the process?

Building an engaging and satisfying workplace needs a different type of manager

Line managers play a vital role in influencing employee engagement as they’re the ones directly interacting with their team members on a day-to-day basis. So, HR teams need to be thinking about how they want to develop managers with the skillsets needed to support – and encourage – meaningful employee engagement

For example, Amrit Sandhar, founder and CEO of The Engagement Coach, believes businesses should reposition managers as coaches, rather than bosses. This, Amrit believes, will mean they’re better equipped to cultivate engagement with their employees.

With that all in mind, here are 6 ways HR can support their line managers when cultivating engaging and satisfying workplaces.

1. Invest in relational skill building

One important way to support line managers is to give them the skills they need before they become leaders.

Virtual and remote working now widespread, managers need high-level influencing, collaboration, negotiation and communication skills for these types of environments. However, companies don’t typically invest in developing these skills, or only do so when people are further into their careers and already in management roles.

For example, Gen Z employees – with their well-documented ambition and thirst for progress – are stepping into management roles much earlier (and with much less experience) than their predecessors. As a result, they may have the job qualifications, but not necessarily the relational skills needed for management roles.

As an HR professional, you must help in developing these critical relational skills much earlier in people’s careers – not just when they’ve become managers and senior leaders. Indeed, our survey into satisfying workplaces found that nearly a quarter of employees said their senior leader’s lack of communications were harming their workplace satisfaction – so it certainly makes sense to correct this.

Relational skill building should be integrated into training and development programmes for every employee – from graduate stage onwards. This means when employees take the leap in into managerial positions, they’ll know the importance of collaboration and communication when it comes to nurturing an engaging work environment.

2. Encourage a culture of feedback…

One of the most effective ways to learn whether workplace satisfaction and engagement levels in your workplace are in danger is to simply ask your employees. So, look to gather regular feedback from them about their experiences in the workplace.

Initiating regular pulse surveys are an incredibly effective way to do that, and track employee engagement and sentiment throughout a year. They also show your employees that you’re keen to understand what can be done to improve their working lives, and value their thoughts and opinions –critical parts of positive, engaging company cultures.

The results you gather will provide you valuable insights into areas of engagement that require improvement, and help your line managers better understand the specific needs and concerns of their teams. To learn more about the type of pulse survey questions you should be asking, just follow this link.

3… and share it with managers to develop an action plan

Once you have collected your pulse survey data, analyse the responses you receive to see if there are specific trends or themes you can investigate further. Share these insights with your line managers as this will help them make informed decisions as to how to better manage their people, and prioritise areas for improvement.

Once you’ve shared your findings with your managers and senior leaders, collaborate with them to develop action plans based on survey results and any other feedback you may receive. This could include  annual engagement surveys, exit interviews or reviews on online forums such as Glassdoor. These plans should outline specific steps and initiatives you plan to take to address workplace satisfaction and engagement challenges, and enhance levels of employee satisfaction.

4. Support line managers with employee performance management and career development

Another interesting result from our research was that employees believed senior leaders who support career growth opportunities are vital to building satisfying work environments. It makes sense then, to ensure your own senior leaders have everything they need to support the growth and advancement of their employees’ careers.

HR are in an ideal position to assist line managers in doing that by developing effective performance management processes. Ideally, ones that include regular feedback, goal-setting for career advancement, are transparent and make it easy to celebrate the successes of employees.

A well-structured performance management system – preferably, integrated with an HR software platform – can do wonders to both engagement and staff motivation. To understand if your performance management processes are fit for purpose and what you can do to ensure they are, just click here.

5. Research what other companies in your industry do

With talent pools shrinking, it’s likely you’ll be competing with your rivals not just for business, but also for talented employees. So, there’s no harm in looking at what other businesses in your industry do to engage successfully with their workforces. After all, they’ll probably be doing it themselves!

Start by conducting benchmarking studies to compare levels of workplace satisfaction and engagement with industry standards, such as checking out Employee Net Promoter Scores. You could even look on social platforms (Glassdoor, Indeed etc…) to get an idea of what other companies do to create satisfying and engaging work environments. The information you find can then help you guide line managers in setting realistic goals and continuously improving engagement strategies.

6. Consider mentoring opportunities

If your managers are still in need of some more expert help and guidance, mentoring can be an incredibly effective way to help them on the path to success. Mentoring is a great way for HR to support line managers with their people management responsibilities. This is especially true for managers who might have been thrust onto the front lines in a hurry, or are struggling to see the value of devoting time to their people and engagement duties.

Mentoring can be a win-win scenario for both your employees and line managers. Read more about it in this article.

Paul Bauer author image

Paul Bauer

Paul Bauer is the Head of Content at Cezanne HR. Based in the Utopia of Milton Keynes (his words, not ours!) he’s worked within the employee benefits, engagement and HR sectors for over four years. He's also earned multiple industry awards for his work - including a coveted Roses Creative Award.

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