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18 Jul 2023
by Charles Cotton, Rachel Suff

Line managers are the squeezed middle, says CIPD

Charles Cotton, senior reward adviser and Rachel Suff, senior wellbeing adviser, on the growing gap between the wellbeing support expected from line managers and the level of training they receive to perform it

Line managers are the ‘squeezed middle’, says CIPD.jpg


There’s an increasing expectation for line managers to support people’s health and wellbeing in several ways, for example: 

  • managing absence and return to work 
  • making reasonable adjustments 
  • supporting mental wellbeing 
  • tackling work-related stress. 

That expectation is not misplaced: with implementation of people management policies devolved to line managers, they have the day-to-day relationship with employees in their team. This means they should be well placed to have supportive and sensitive conversations about wellbeing issues. Line managers are also responsible for workloads and deadlines, as well as other areas that can affect people’s wellbeing, such as performance management. 

To carry out this responsibility effectively, they need support, guidance and training from the organisation. But we know from our research at the CIPD that in many organisations there is a stubborn gap between the expectations for managers to support wellbeing and the level of investment in their confidence and capability. For example, fewer than half of organisations (44%) have trained managers to support people with mental ill health. 

Line managers are often the ‘squeezed middle’, facing competing demands and under pressure to deliver on operational priorities as well as their people management responsibilities.

The latter should not be an ‘add on’ – managers need to understand what their role is for supporting wellbeing and where the boundaries lie. They are not medical experts or counsellors but should signpost to specialist help where needed, make helpful adjustments and make sure work is not part of the problem. 

Financial pressures

CIPD research reveals that while 61% of workers surveyed in the winter 2022 Labour Market Outlook said that they were able to keep up with their bills and credit commitments without any difficulties, by winter 2023 this proportion had fallen to 48%. 

Our research also uncovered an increase in the proportion of workers reporting that money worries have affected their ability to do their job from 28% to 33%. These worries are reflected in increases in the percentages of the staff reporting health problems or finding it hard to concentrate at work. 

Of course, just as employees are facing a cost-of-living crisis, many employers are facing a cost-of-doing-business crisis, limiting the support they can offer. Nevertheless, we’re still encouraging organisations to review what they can do to support line managers and wider workplace financial wellbeing. 

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