HR can improve wellbeing but only with line manager support, research finds

Experts add businesses should empower staff to pursue professional development

HR has the power to improve employee wellbeing, provided it gets line manager support, recent research has found – but experts argue the profession needs to go beyond this and empower the staff themselves. 

The research, Developmental HRM, employee well-being and performance: The moderating role of developing leadership, by IÉSEG School of Management explored the impact of HR practices on wellbeing and performance for 426 employees at seven different organisations. It concluded manager commitment heavily influenced the success of such programmes.

“Overall, we found that developmental HR practices increase employee wellbeing,” said lead researcher Professor Elise Marescaux of IÉSEG. “When an organisation offers more training and self-development options, employees feel more committed and are less exhausted. But we also find that supervisors play a key role in ensuring the success of HR processes.”

But Dr Charmi Patel, professor of international and strategic HRM and organisational behaviour at Henley Business School, told People Management organisations should look beyond the concept of the ‘HR supervisor’ and train all staff in management roles.

“Middle managers are very important, despite not necessarily being involved with HR,” she said. “Every line manager should have training in people management practice, which people often confuse with back office HR. 

“Rather than saying line managers need to be upskilled in HR work, organisations should be promoting general people management training.” 

Elizabeth Crowley, skills policy advisor at the CIPD, added the study highlighted the potential for initiatives to fail unless organisations made sure strategies were “not only top down, but bottom up”.

“Line managers are critical in ensuring policy is effectively implemented, but it’s also important that employees themselves are aware of the learning and development offers available to them, and are confident in having conversations with their line managers regarding their development needs and progression opportunities,” she said.

“HR devises learning and development strategy, and line managers should be equipped to implement these opportunities, but enabling employees to have those conversations is equally important.” 

Investment in blended solutions for line manager training was crucial in bridging this gap, Crowley added

“We don’t invest in line managers in the UK to the extent that other countries do, and many receive no training at all, so it’s important to address that,” she said. 

“Much of the time this can be achieved through short, bespoke blended learning opportunities around mentoring, coaching and performance, and having difficult conversations, enabling people to have those conversations and dealing with difficult employees.” 

Meanwhile, the British Standards Institution (BSI) announced late last week that it was launching a new code of practice seeking to tackle the mental health and wellbeing crisis among the UK workforce. The code was designed in collaboration with the CIPD. 

Under the code, organisations need to foster mental health in their workplace by cultivating a culture which offers strong, ethical relationships, a collaborative and communicative management style and a focus on improving learning and development. 

“Enhancing employee wellbeing and engagement is at heart of this code of practice,” said Anne Hayes, head of governance and resilience at the BSI.

“[The code] provides guidance for organisations to provide early intervention to help prevent people being absent for health reasons, and to use the workplace to promote individual health and wellbeing.”