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Line managers stop employees speaking up, study finds

When employees see something not right or not working, one in six (17%) think their line manager stops them from speaking up, according to a new study.

The research, by culture change consultancy United Culture, found this was a more common attitude among men at 20%, than women (14%). 

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Angela O’Connor, founder of HR consultancy, the HR Lounge, said when employees are promoted into a managerial position, they should be trained to handle concerns from colleagues and promote a culture of openness. 

Speaking to HR magazine, she said: “Management is not a skill acquired by osmosis. It’s just not good enough for organisations to promote people from subject specific roles to management without ensuring they have the requisite skills, experience and development. 

“Development needs to be ongoing and include the basics of communication and feedback, goal setting and performance management and the more nuanced areas of tricky conversations.” 

Ross Seychell, chief people officer at HR platform, Personio, said a solution could be to provide employees with accessible opportunities to highlight concerns they may not be able to bring to their line managers. 

Speaking to HR magazine, he said: “Employers should provide employees with regular anonymised surveys and open door sessions with senior management.  

“This will provide staff with a platform to communicate their concerns in a way they feel most comfortable.  

“As part of this, it’s important to demonstrate that feedback has been appreciated and acknowledged, even if there is no specific action to take, so that employees feel heard and supported.” 

The research also found 16% of employees don’t feel recognised for their contribution at work, with 22% of women feeling this way compared to 11% of men. 

Seychell said scheduling regular opportunities for feedback will help managers celebrate the achievements of staff and help them progress. 

He said: “Employers should use regular 360-degree feedback to get a holistic view of employee progression. This includes getting feedback from team members at all levels of the organisation, including both to and from leaders and peers.  

“This helps to get a really thorough sense of an employee’s strengths and weaknesses from a range of voices, to allow everyone in the organisation to know what they are doing well and where they can improve.” 

Bad management can also have a negative impact on employee mental health. 

This month, the CIPD published separate research which found 50% of workers with a bad manager said work has a negative impact on their mental health. 

Fiona McKee, founder of HR consultancy The HR Practice, said open communication between staff and management is vital to employee wellbeing. 

She said: “Whilst line managers are key to communication within teams and organisations, this can’t be the only route for employees in terms of communication.  

“Organisations need to ensure colleagues have the opportunity to be heard at all levels. This type of approach will include employee forums, skip meetings held by senior management teams, instant messaging, townhall meetings, intranet pages, internal social channels, engagement focus groups and, of course, line manager updates.”  

The study, Work Remastered, analysed more than 1,000 office-based workers across the UK and the US.