Frontline Managers - 8 April 2016
It’s hard to think of a more important role in any organisation than that of the frontline manager. What frontline managers say and do every day has the greatest influence on employee engagement, certainly more so than what executives and CEOs say and do.
That’s because many HR-related tasks are actually implemented by frontline managers, which means on-the-job training, rostering, recruiting, rewarding, and managing performance are frequently carried out by people who, unfortunately, aren’t as well supported as they should be. That’s the conclusion of a new study just published by the University of Kent.
The researchers explored why many frontline managers drop the implementation of HR-related activities even when they know they’re important. The reason, they found, is that frontline managers encounter a number of stressors in the workplace – three in particular – the existence of which forces them to reprioritise away from what truly engages their team.
Role ambiguity: This occurs when frontline managers are unclear about expectations, policies, processes, and competencies. As one of the respondents remarked in the study: “I’ve no idea what they really want us to do as it changes all the time.”
Role conflict: This occurs when frontline managers feel as though what’s expected from a HR perspective contradicts what’s expected from a business perspective. As one example, some of the participants in the research felt compelled to sacrifice their employees’ work/life balance in order to generate greater operational efficiencies.
Role overload: This occurs when frontline managers don’t have the time to focus on the activities they know will lead to engagement. Faced with a mountain of tasks but only a limited amount of time, they instead just pick and choose what creates the quickest wins. Those wins, however, are often short-term transactional tasks that don’t impact engagement as much as longer-term energy-demanding ones.
If you’re a leader of frontline managers, or an influencer of them, consider the following:
- To reduce role ambiguity, issue clearer instructions, check for understanding, provide sufficient training, and communicate regularly with relevant information.
- To reduce role conflict, reward behaviour as well as results since HR-related activities don’t always produce tangible outcomes immediately. In addition, be an advocate of ethical workplace practices so that when frontline managers are faced with a choice between what’s right and what’s easy, they’re inspired to choose the former.
- To reduce role overload, give frontline managers more control over their work, renegotiate objectives and deadlines, and be sensitive to early signs of burnout.
And if you’re indeed the frontline manager experiencing the above, proactively seek clarity when your role is ambiguous, seek guidance when your role is conflicted, and seek assistance when your role is overloaded. Otherwise, you’ll end up sacrificing the one thing you probably shouldn’t: your employees’ engagement.
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