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Andy Cook

Marshall-James Employee Relations Ltd

Chief Executive

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Line management – the heart of the employee/employer relationship


An organisation which realises the importance of strong line management is an organisation which will flourish and grow. Most managers understand the importance of employee engagement and employee relations but in times of economic uncertainty when budgets are tight, the gap between managerial good intentions and the actual practice widens.

Line managers sit at the heart of the relationship between the employer and the employee and if this is flawed then it can lead to serious problems. As the CIPD said in 2011, “Managing the employment relationship rests heavily on the shoulders of line managers, but their competence in this area is, in general, seriously neglected.” Just why is poor line management capability such a common factor within organisations?

Developing strong employee relations within an organisation is increasingly important and it is crucial to remember that creating this is no longer the sole responsibility of the HR team. Despite more being asked of line managers, investment in essential training and development for them is all too often neglected and they are not adequately prepared for the situations and issues that they will have to deal with in their position.

Good line managers must be able to manage conflict, resolve problems and understand employees’ feelings whilst influencing and motivating employees on a daily basis in order to meet the demands of their employer and company objectives and this is no mean feat.

One of the downfalls in line management is that senior managers are all too often out of touch to what is actually happening ‘on the shop floor’ however still direct the line managers. The knock on effect of weak senior management to front line managers needs to be examined to ensure that the management trail is strong on all levels

Employees are not necessarily connected to what the CEO may say as they deal with the line manager and take orders from them. The influence front line managers can have on the employees shouldn’t be underestimated and time and money should be spent to continue developing their skills in order to create a positive and effective workplace.

Employees should be encouraged to provide their views on how the organisation is run. Line managers must have the tools to create a culture where employees are encouraged and actively listened to. Employees who feel appreciated and involved within an organisation are likely to work harder to create a happy, positive and productive workforce.

So what steps do organisations need to take to enforce effective line management? Below are four steps which I believe are central to establishing strong line management:

  • Establish clear messaging about what behaviour and actions are expected from line managers -it is important that these messages are consistent throughout the organisation
  • Acknowledge and encourage positive management, behaviour and performance with rewards systems
  • Commit to continual professional development for line managers
  • Ensure that line managers who do not abide to the organisation’s messaging about good employee relations are dealt with immediately

Effective line management is one of the key areas in developing a strong employee relations strategy within an organisation. An organisation which implements good employee relations will reap the benefits. True employee voice is embedded in the organisational culture, and listens, captures and responds to the views of individuals and teams of employees. Managers who take a serious interest in what employees have to say are becoming increasingly more important and central to the success of a company; employees who feel genuinely appreciated and listened to by line and senior managers will in turn create a more productive workforce.

Organisations need to realise that management capability has to be a priority, not just an add-on for when budget allows. Employees are motivated by their day to day contact, i.e. their line manager not the CEO. Providing line managers with the ability to manage staff effectively, fairly and in line with the organisation’s goals and objectives will benefit everyone from the employee to senior management.

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Andy Cook

Chief Executive

Read more from Andy Cook