Line managers play a vital role in determining the health, wellbeing and engagement of their team. To adopt a management approach that supports this, the CIPD has developed a series of quick and easy to use guidance and exercises specifically for line managers.

These can be used as part of a leadership or management development initiative, or on their own to help managers explore and develop their management capability.

A line manager’s behaviour and the culture they create in their team is the biggest influence on an employee’s work experience. By improving their management capabilities, managers can achieve better results, improving their own wellbeing as well as that of their team, achieving better results and benefitting the organisation as a whole.

Behaviours that support health, wellbeing and engagement

Research (funded by the CIPD and led by Affinity Health at Work) identified five key behavioural areas for line managers to support the health, wellbeing and engagement of those who work for them:

Being open, fair and consistent

Being open, fair and consistent

This behaviour is about:

  • Being positive and appreciative: taking a positive approach in interpersonal interactions, avoiding unhelpful criticism and blame
  • Respect and openness: treating everyone with respect, consulting people and being open to other perspectives
  • Remaining calm under pressure: managing emotions, pressures, deadlines and personal issues in order to stay calm and equanimous
  • Being consistent, fair and kind: managing with fairness, impartiality, kindness, integrity and consistency.
Handling conflict and problems icon

Handling conflict and people management issues

This behaviour is about:

  • Conflict management: dealing with employee conflicts early, effectively and in an impartial manner, including following up as appropriate
  • Addressing people management issues: supporting people and addressing more severe issues, such as bullying
  • Appropriate support: seeking support for yourself and the team, using organisational resources
Providing knowledge, clarity and guidance

Providing knowledge, clarity and guidance

This behaviour is about:

  • Clarity about roles, expectations and feedback: demonstrating understanding of your own and employees’ roles, clarifying expectations and providing clear feedback
  • Guidance and advice: giving advice and guidance when appropriate and making time for people
  • Reliability: being decisive, following up on action points and taking responsibility for problem solving
Building and sustaining relationships

Building and sustaining relationships

This behaviour is about:

  • Concern for wellbeing: showing empathy, concern and consideration for employees
  • Interest in individuals: taking an interest in employees as individuals
  • Sociability: interacting with employees in a friendly and sociable way
  • Availability: providing opportunities for employees to speak one-to-one
Supporting development

Supporting development

This behaviour is about:

  • Exploring and actively supporting development: taking time to discuss employees’ career development and actively supporting them to develop
  • Development opportunities: offering opportunities and arranging career progression and development for employees

Further detail on these behaviours can be found in this downloadable table.

On this page, you will find information about how these support materials will help you to quickly and effectively develop these key behavioural areas so that you can manage your team in a way that promotes their health, wellbeing and engagement.

Why is my role as a line manager important?

Extensive research makes clear that good line management is vital for employee health, wellbeing and engagement. For example, CIPD research found that poor management style is one of the main causes of work-related stress; and there is considerable research showing the link between different management/ leadership approaches and employee health, wellbeing and engagement outcomes.

Being a line manager is a busy and demanding role, and managers are often time-poor. In addition, many managers receive little training so handling people management issues can prove challenging. However, adopting a positive management approach saves time – by either preventing issues from arising or dealing with those that do arise early and effectively – and brings many other benefits, as discussed below. 

Your management approach is vital because:

  • Your behaviour can be a potential source of stress and disengagement or of wellbeing and engagement for your team. Think of how you felt when you were managed well compared to when you were poorly managed. When you are managed by someone who is consistent, fair and kind and builds a good relationship with you, that can really enhance your sense of wellbeing and desire to do a good job.
  • You influence your team’s exposure to organisational sources of stress or wellbeing: you act as the ‘gatekeeper’ to determine how your team sees your employer. For example, if the culture in your organisation tends to be critical and unappreciative, you can mitigate the effect on your team by taking a positive approach yourself, showing appreciation for the work they do, avoiding unhelpful criticism or blame and not passing on the unhelpful critical comments made by others.
  • You have a key role in identifying and tackling people management issues, for example, you are central to managing employee sickness absence and return to work; your support is essential to help employees manage mental and physical health problems at work; your capacity to manage conflict is vital; and by giving people clarity, guidance and advice, you can prevent and manage poor performance. 

These factors mean that your management style can make all the difference to whether your team feel healthy, positive and engaged. This is not only a ‘good thing’ in itself, it also influences how people perform. If those who work for you are feeling healthy and engaged, their performance is more likely to be good, they are less likely to go on sick leave, they will feel more motivated to do a good job, and they will be in a better position to deal with problems that arise. Each of the five key behavioural areas covered here contribute to creating a healthy and engaged team in different ways.

When you manage people well, you build effective working relationships and create an environment that is open, respectful, kind, fair and consistent, in which people feel ‘psychologically safe’. Psychological safety is where people feel they can speak up and share concerns, questions or ideas freely without being criticised or made to feel ‘wrong’ for doing so. Research shows that psychological safety has huge benefits for learning, engagement and performance. 

Good relationships and creating a culture of psychological safety also put you in a better position to manage tricky people issues. For example, if a member of your team is struggling with a mental health problem, has suffered a bereavement, or is dealing with other sensitive, difficult circumstances, they are more likely to talk to you about it if you have established a trusting, safe working relationship and environment by building and sustaining relationships and being open, fair and consistent. If you are good at handling conflict and people management issues, you are in a better position to prevent conflict arising in your team and to tackle it early, avoiding it escalating and becoming more problematic. In all cases of tricky people management issues, working on the behaviours outlined in these resources will enable you to be more likely to spot issues that arise and address them early and effectively.

Note: This does not mean that you become your team’s counsellor, therapist, best friend or confidant. They need others to support them in those roles. What it does mean is that you are part of their support network, can help them with the work aspects of the situation and can ensure that work is not part of the problem – in fact, work can actually be part of the solution by building their confidence and sense of purpose.

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected many aspects of life and work, from serious illness and sudden, traumatic bereavement to sheltering from the virus; from furlough and redundancies to increased caseloads/workloads; from social isolation and loneliness to being cooped up with house-mates or family 24/7; from working from home for the first time to feeling at risk because of having to travel on public transport; from home-schooling children to being separated from loved ones. The list of challenges and changes goes on. People have experienced a myriad of emotions – anxiety, uncertainty, relief, excitement, grief, loss, satisfaction, drama, boredom, gratitude, care, overwhelm, compassion, numbness, confusion, insight – sometimes all in one day! There are a range of issues still to be faced, including anxieties around returning to work and/or commuting, fears over the financial fallout’, uncertainties in how to navigate the ‘new normal’, concerns about exposure to the virus and so on.

The experience has been very different for everyone, so it is important not to make any assumptions. However, a few things are becoming clear:

  • The risk of mental health problems has increased – there were already high levels of mental health problems (1 in 6 people experiencing a mental health problem every week) and the pandemic has both exacerbated pre-existing problems and caused problems for many who hadn’t experienced them before
  • General health and wellbeing has been affected – including musculoskeletal problems due to uncomfortable work conditions at home, reduced access to health care services, changed lifestyles, exercise, nutrition etc. 
  • People are dealing with changes to their working situation – temporary or permanent shifts in the amount and type of work they are doing, where they are working, the contact they have with co-workers and so on.
  • Inequality, unfairness and injustice have been highlighted – the burden of and fallout from the pandemic has fallen more heavily on some groups than others, including those from BAME backgrounds, those with health problems, those with lower incomes and lower levels of education, those with caring responsibilities, the over 65s and the under 30s.

What has become clear during the pandemic is that the role of line managers has become even more crucial for employees’ health, wellbeing and engagement. Research has shown that employees who had less contact with their line manager during the initial months of the pandemic had poorer mental health. Supportive, positive management approaches are imperative for protecting and supporting people in dealing with the challenges and opportunities of the current context. The kind of management style set out in the five key behavioural areas covered by this development toolkit also role-models important behaviours and attitudes for your team and the organisation, such as compassion, care, openness and respect, concern and interest in one another, which will help everyone to support each other, including clients or service users.

Compassion, care and kindness are not about being soft or wishy-washy or even liking everyone. You can be a professional manager and care. One way of looking at this is to see the importance of combining wisdom and compassion. In this context, wisdom is about being able to:

  • See the broader picture, recognise that your view is just one of many ways of seeing things
  • Recognise how interdependent and connected everything is (people, teams, organisations, the environment etc)
  • Balance the demands of the job, organisation, shareholders and other stakeholders with the need to take care of and engage your employees
  • Know how to take difficult decisions and be firm in order to get tough things done while at the same time showing respect and kindness to individuals.

Compassion without wisdom can lead to avoiding saying or doing difficult things, but wisdom without compassion can lead to being clever and strategic but unkind – for example, putting short-term results before people's wellbeing. When you have both wisdom and compassion, you can take hard decisions and get things done, whilst still being caring and benevolent.

Developing wisdom and compassion is a life-long journey, but the guidance and exercises available here are designed to help you take some steps along it.

Of course, this is not just about your team members, it is also about caring for your own health, wellbeing and engagement. If you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t be able to take care of those who work for you. To manage in this world of uncertainty, you need to find a sense of stability for yourself. This is particularly true when it comes to having the capacity to listen, and allow space for employees’ emotions, and to manage the complexity of human relationships. Sometimes ‘giving someone a good listening to’ is the best thing you can do for their wellbeing – even if there is nothing you can do to resolve the issues they are raising.

As mentioned above, having healthy, engaged, high performing employees is part of looking after yourself because you will get better results and be able to address problems that arise before they become crises. Good trusting relationships with your team can also mean that the team is there to support you with challenges that arise in your work and life: you can delegate tasks to them, draw on their ideas and expertise, and gain a sense of meaning from the team’s achievements and appreciation. So, caring for your team is part of caring for yourself and vice versa.

Importantly, being a caring, positive, supportive manager will be easier if you can take a caring, positive, supportive approach to yourself. Compassion and self-compassion are closely inter-linked and both draw on a sense of common humanity. When we recognise that struggles, emotional and physical pain, and personal inadequacy are all part of our shared human experience – that they are experiences that we all go through, rather than something that happens to ‘me’ alone – we are much better able to be kind to ourselves and to others.

Managing people well has a range of benefits for you and to your organisation.

Firstly, when a team is healthy, engaged and performing, you are likely to get better results: this might be in terms of productivity, customer/patient care, sales or financial returns; it may also be about better employee retention, reduced sickness absence or fewer grievances and disciplinaries, saving time for you in not having to deal with these issues. Better results and reduced costs are a source of success and satisfaction for the organisation, the team and for you as the manager.

Secondly, managing in positive, healthy ways, as shown in the behavioural areas covered here, can prevent people management issues from arising, so you don’t have to give time and energy to dealing with them. For example:

  • When your management approach creates support and collaboration, for example by building and sustaining relationships, conflict between team members is less likely and people will help one another out if needed. 
  • When you provide people with clarity about tasks, expectations and how they are doing, you are less likely to find them focusing on the wrong task or getting into a poor performance spiral.
  • When your behaviour is appreciative, positive, consistent, and kind, and you remain calm under pressure yourself, team members are less likely to get stressed. 
  • When you treat people fairly, openly and with respect, grievances and complaints are less likely to occur.
  • When you support people’s development, they are less likely to leave unexpectedly.

Finally, if problems do emerge in your team, you are more likely to know about them at an early stage. If you know your team well and have built good relationships with them, you will be more able to spot conflict, mental health problems, people struggling with their work or with non-work challenges. When people trust you, they are more likely to tell you about these things as soon as they start happening. Being in a position to address issues or refer people to appropriate support early on means they are less likely to escalate into major problems and will save you a huge amount of time.

What next?

To make a start, take the quiz designed to help you reflect on the extent to which your line management approach aligns with the five areas of line manager behaviour set out above.

Upon completion of the quiz you will receive a recommendations report; you can then use that report to work through the step-by-step guidance designed to develop your management approach through a series of simple steps:

  • Reflecting and getting feedback
  • Identifying strengths and areas to develop
  • Planning the action you will take
  • Exploring barriers that might stop you from being the manager you want to be
  • Taking action
  • Reviewing, celebrating and taking further action.

Short exercises covering the various behavioural areas, a quiz on overcoming potential barriers, questions for reflection/feedback and an action plan are provided to support you with these steps. All of these resources can be downloaded and saved so that you can use them in your own time. You can also download the step by step guidance here.

None of the steps should take long, and you should plan short bursts of time over a week or two to get to the point when you are ready to take action. You can then allow a few months to take these actions before reviewing where you have got to and planning further actions.

This will be a worthwhile investment of your time as it will help you adopt a management approach that supports good health, wellbeing and engagement in your team. Your behaviour and the culture you create in your team is the biggest influence on team members’ work experience. The key behavioural areas covered here can help you manage your team in a way that saves time and gets better results – all of which is good for your own wellbeing as well as that of your team. 

Explore our related content

Support materials

How to use the support materials

This step by step guidance will guide you through using the support materials to help you explore and develop your management capability to help you support the wellbeing, health and engagement of your team

Find out more
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