One in three workers ‘afraid to raise issues with their manager’, survey reveals

9 May 2019 By Lauren Brown

TUC calls for urgent investment in line management training as research suggests bosses are often bad for morale

One in three workers (32 per cent) feel uncomfortable approaching their manager with problems at work, research published today has revealed. 

The Trades Union Congress (TUC) poll showed that while the majority of UK workers feel supported by their boss, 35 per cent don’t think their line manager treats them and their colleagues fairly.

And more than two-fifths (45 per cent) of the 2,100 individuals surveyed for the Improving Line Management report said their manager did not help morale at work.

Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the TUC, said having a good line manager was crucial for workers, but businesses were not investing enough in training them.

“It’s shocking that so many workers feel afraid to raise issues with their boss. If we want better and more productive workplaces, we need to step up investment in training, including for managers,” she said. 

The research comes after recent CIPD statistics revealed management style was increasingly blamed for stress-related absences.

Its latest Health and Wellbeing at Work report, which surveyed 1,078 people professionals, found almost two-fifths of UK businesses saw an increase in stress-related absences over the past year, while almost half (43 per cent) said management style was a direct cause of stress, up from 32 per cent the previous year.

Today’s TUC report said the work of a line manager was vital to ensuring not only employee wellbeing but productivity and strong business outcomes.

“A good line manager improves the working lives of those they manage, as well as enhancing the performance of the organisation they work for. A poor line manager, unfortunately, can have the opposite effect,” it said.

“To be good in their roles, and to ensure they’re doing right by those they manage, line managers need training, support and time [but] they don’t always currently seem to be getting those” 

According to the most recent government statistics, less than half of UK managers received any training in the last year. 

“The UK lacks a people-focused management culture,” the TUC report said. “Organisations are too often badly managed, with too many ‘accidental managers’ who aren’t provided with the skills, time or knowledge to manage properly. There’s too little concern about how this culture impacts on the working lives, rights and health of employees.”

The report concluded the areas that urgently needed improvement were better morale at work, ensuring workers know their rights and actively ensuring people feel supported. Nearly half of respondents (44 per cent) reported their line manager did not make sure they knew their rights at work.

It called on employers to provide better training and support for line managers that fully enables them to perform their role and implement fair performance management processes. 

Rachel Suff, senior employment relations adviser at the CIPD, said senior leaders needed to put more investment into the training of managers to ensure they were fully supporting staff. “This is particularly important when it comes to health and wellbeing given that managers will often be the first port of call for staff if they have a concern to raise.”

She added that the TUC research into the “patchiness” of management training tallied with the CIPD’s own research.

“We found that only half of managers have received training to help their teams manage stress better. It’s therefore not surprising that stress-related absences have risen in two-fifths of organisations last year and managers are frequently being held up as the cause.”

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