Line managers: The missing link in staff engagement


08 / 1 / 2015 4.41pm

The majority of research material in relation to staff engagement looks at the role of the organisation, the responsibility of the HR specialist and the impact of senior leaders. All of these are of course important and the role of a first level supervisor sometimes known as 'line manager', is though just as important. The line manager has day to day contact with staff, influencing many key aspects of staff experience, from appraisal through to levels of involvement. It is therefore vital to both involve line managers in the development of staff engagement approaches and also help support them in developing their staff engagement skills.

Research evidence

There is a large body of research evidence on the impact that line managers have on staff engagement. In the NHS this is summarised in the National Institute for Healthcare (NIHR) 'Review of Evidence' and for the wider economy the Engage for Success website has further resources.

Evidence from the staff survey shows the impact of appraisal and teamwork, which are shaped by supervisor behaviour on overall levels of engagement. There is considerable variation between teams even within organisations. At ward and departmental level the line manager also shapes the amount of involvement that staff have in decision making.

Staff awareness of organisational objectives has a key influence on overall organisational commitment and line managers need to be supported to help explain this to staff. Line managers also have a key role in reshaping organisational culture and making behaviour change.

Developing a framework

There are a range of ways in which line managers can seek to promote engagement within their teams. The Institute for Employment Studies (IES) has developed a framework to support the engaging manager which can be found in The Engaging Manager report. The report focuses on issues such as seeking feedback, consistency in performance management and acting as liaison between the team and the wider organisation.

Work was undertaken in trusts in Yorkshire to develop a framework that supported line managers to handle decision making in ways which supported engagement (add link to follow). The CIPD has outlined key competencies for line managers and staff engagement in their report Management competencies for enhancing employee engagement. A number of trusts such as University College Hospital, Southern Health and Oxleas NHS Foundation Trust have developed leadership development training to support their line managers.


NHS Employers has an ongoing programme of training courses in selected trusts which are aimed to support line managers and help them develop staff engagement capacity and skills. During these training sessions, delegates have shared their positive approaches, along with challenges ranging from the number of staff supervised to a range of job demands. Unlike in other sectors, many NHS line managers have other work responsibilities as most are clinicians that continue to undertake clinical work. Most have also been promoted into their roles without any training.

Please contact for more information.

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