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Three ways HR can help line managers through COVID-19 and beyond

Since COVID-19 began, what have you done as an HR team to specifically support your line managers? What guidance have you provided your line managers with to ‘manage’ their people? The brave new world of the mask-wearing, social-distancing workforce is going to be looking to line management for leadership.

Since COVID-19 began, what have you done as an HR team to specifically support your line managers? What guidance have you provided your line managers with to ‘manage’ their people (given the way people work has and will continue to change)? The brave new world of the mask-wearing, social-distancing workforce is going to be looking to line management for leadership, and HR needs to be the expert voice shaping how line managers respond.

In a recent Cezanne HR survey on remote working, we asked respondents who had been managing a remote team[1] if they were provided with extra support from their company to help them manage their staff. We found that 46% of managers hadn’t received more support, despite COVID-19. This is a significant proportion of our respondents who have had to essentially ‘go it alone’ in managing their people during a world health crisis that most, if not all of us, have never previously experienced.

We also asked these managers what the most challenging aspects were.[2] Interestingly, 42% of people highlighted ‘supervising team members’ and 42% also selected ‘managing my own workload whilst supervising employees’; but, only 19% selected ‘getting projects delivered on time’. This begs the question: why are managers worried about ‘supervising’ if they’re not concerned with output? Perhaps supervision for them also encompasses a welfare element to their management duties, but if it’s purely supervision in the sense of ensuring people are working, then HR may need to reset expectations around management responsibilities.

The mental health of line managers also needs attention. 49% of our survey’s remote managers said that they feel more stressed about managing staff than they did before. This is a concern as the mental resilience of line managers is critical in maintaining overall wellbeing in an organisation – especially as it often falls to them to motivate and energise the people they manage.

So, from our survey results it seems that some managers are feeling like they don’t have the support they need, they may be focussing their energy on the wrong area, and they’re more stressed. What can HR do to help?

A managers-first approach to comms
The resounding advice throughout COVID-19 for businesses in general has been to make sure they’re communicating with their workforce. And while this holds true, perhaps HR can take it a step further by refining their messages for different audiences. Any good communications plan, internal or external, looks at the profile of the audience and segments messaging where appropriate. To be effective in supporting management through COVID-19, as an HR professional, it’s wise to have bespoke messaging (and advice) for managers as well as looking after wider business broadcasts.

You may also find it useful to stagger HR communications that are going to the whole business by sending them to line managers first, gaining their feedback and support for your initiatives, and then pushing the message out to the rest of the workforce. In some instances, it might be more effective to ask line managers to then cascade HR communications for you. Taking this approach to your HR comms strategy will ensure your line managers feel better informed and more included.

Direction – what matters and what doesn’t?
To help line managers prioritise where they should be spending their management time, and to aid in reducing their stress, HR needs to be clear with line managers about what’s expected of them in terms of management duties and to gently make suggestions about letting go of any outdated management styles that are more akin to ‘supervision’.

In larger organisations with multiple management levels, having these conversations from the top down may make it easier to align everyone’s expectations, so that what you suggest as an HR professional reflects the approach of your senior management team and so on. Likewise, HR is also in a good place to feed back up the chain how more junior managers may be feeling and concerns they are facing.

It’s worthwhile thinking about what metrics your business has at its disposal for measuring productivity before communicating with your line managers. If anyone is concerned about taking a more hands-off approach to managing their team, showing them how they can measure outputs will hopefully go a long way in alleviating fears.

Caring for your people
You may find that some of your managers express very high levels of stress and anxiety; make sure you have resources in place that you can direct them to for support.

Does your organisation have a mental-health first-aid team? Do you have psychologists/counsellors that you feel comfortable recommending to your staff?

Your line managers, and indeed all your staff’s requirements for mental health support are likely to be higher than they were pre-COVID-19. And some may require more serious interventions. Having a plan to manage mental ill health, of varying degrees, will be important in keeping your line management mentally fit and healthy.

COVID-19 has been a difficult time for everyone, and leaders are particularly under the spotlight. One only has to look to media headlines to see leaders being lampooned for failures in judgement and decision making. But the reality is that leaders and managers are being set a very hard task to get it right in how they support their teams, when they too are experiencing new ways of working, stresses and demands. Support from HR will go a long way in helping managers to prioritise their management responsibilities, maintain good mental health, and to feel like their business cares for their wellbeing and that they haven’t been forgotten.

[1] 107 respondents out of 455 in total who completed the survey. Survey completed 18 May 2020.
[2] Respondents were able to select multiple answers

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