The Importance of Line Manager Training in Supporting Employee Well-being

Author: Hannah Mason, XpertHR HR Data Insights Analyst

August 31, 2023


In late spring 2023, XpertHR conducted a global survey on employee well-being, covering 450 organizations operating in the UK and US. The research explored their approaches to employee well-being, including the prioritization, scope, and measuring and monitoring of the effectiveness of, as well as leadership and management involvement in, well-being efforts.

The survey found that employee well-being is a key priority for most organizations, with around two-thirds (68.7%) indicating that well-being is either a business priority or important within their organization, deserving of close attention. Around three-quarters (75.3%) reported that executives contribute to the design and implementation of the well-being approach, either playing a role in building the strategy or signing off on key decisions.

But despite these findings, our survey showed that just one-quarter (23.3%) of responding organizations offer specific training to line managers to help them support employee well-being. As such, the findings appear to highlight a disconnect between the high-level organizational approach to well-being and the processes that are actually in place to enable line managers to support their staff.

Line managers are often responsible for a range of activities that support employee well-being, including:

  • Monitoring an employee's role and responsibilities to ensure their workload is manageable;
  • Liaising with relevant professionals to support the successful rehabilitation of an employee on sick leave;
  • Ensuring employees are working suitable hours and taking their annual leave; and
  • Being familiar with well-being policies and procedures that are likely to affect well-being, including those relating to stress, bullying and harassment, and access to occupational health services.

Without any training, line managers may not be equipped to support employees adequately, which in turn could lead to poor business outcomes, including increased absences and reduced job performance.

Here, we set out an approach to line manager training to support different elements of well-being and the positive outcomes associated with effective training programs.

1. Emotional and Psychological Well-being

Line managers play a key role in supporting employees who have a mental health condition, and employers should make sure that they provide them with comprehensive guidance and training to enable them to do this effectively and with confidence.

Our global well-being survey found that approximately three-quarters (72.6%) of respondents reported that their organization had made strategic decisions to improve employees' psychological and emotional health. Despite this focus, around two-thirds (63.5%) of these organizations did not have well-being training in place for line managers.

Well-being training should help line managers spot the common signs of mental health struggles and identify employees who may need assistance. It should also cover the ways in which pressure can tip over into negative stress and other work-related problems, such as poor performance. It should guide managers on how, and at what point, to seek specialist help if they cannot deal with an individual with a mental health problem, or do not feel confident or comfortable managing a particular issue.

The benefits of training line managers in mental health at work can include:

  • Greater confidence among managers in approaching employees to offer early support at work;
  • More effective and timely referrals to occupational health or other professional help;
  • More effective management support for individuals who are absent with a mental health problem;
  • Less stigma about mental health at work; and
  • A reduction in absenteeism due to an increased ability to keep employees well at work.

The XpertHR leading practice guide on supporting employee mental health includes areas that should be covered in an employer's mental health training, as well as signs and symptoms of mental health illness.

2. Stress Management

Training line managers is key to a successful stress-management program in your organization.

Employers cited stress as a key issue for organizations in XpertHR's UK survey on absence rates, with one employer stating: "Stress-related absences are increasing and more absences are becoming longer term. Indications are that workloads and work-life balance are impacting employee health."

Without appropriate training for line managers on issues such as how to support employees and fostering a culture that avoids unnecessary or unmanageable stress, organizations are likely to experience stress-related absences. The average cost of absenteeism in the UK, including stress-related absenteeism, per employee in 2022 stood at £643.60, or about $811. In the US, missing work costs employers an average of $430 a day for full-time employees, according to a study by Gallup. With an average of 3.6 unplanned absences a year, missed work could cost US employers over $1500 per full-time employee each year.

Training for line managers should cover how to spot and deal with signs of stress and how to manage staff effectively to prevent avoidable stress from occurring. It should also cover how to facilitate effective conversations and suggest appropriate follow-up actions.

Training can help line managers:

  • Influence whether or not employees work long hours;
  • Appreciate the importance of giving staff recovery time after a busy period;
  • Encourage employees to take regular breaks and annual leave;
  • Develop a "no blame" culture; and
  • Give employees regular performance feedback, both positive and negative.

XpertHR has a stress management resource that provides guidance on how to prevent stress and help employees cope with stress.

3. Financial Well-being

In the Salary Budget 2023: XpertHR Survey Report, employers reported inflation/cost of living as the top "upward pressure" on salary budgets, indicating that helping employees through the cost-of-living crisis was the top priority for organizations' compensation teams this year.

Responsibility for providing financial well-being support to employees does not sit solely with line managers, and likely requires a variety of different measures, including financial education. This might include guidance on managing money better, explanations about the types of products available to employees, and generic information about  employer-sponsored retirement plans.

But while the availability of this form of support may be welcomed, the part played by line managers should not be underestimated. Line managers often know individual team members better than anyone else, so they play a vital role in communicating what is on offer to employees, enabling them to access the right types of support, and lending a confidential, non-judgmental ear when an individual is struggling. Line managers may need appropriate training to fulfil this role effectively. Such training might include the development of soft skills, such as active listening.

Positive effects of good financial well-being may not be easily measured but can include improved productivity and business growth, as well as helping staff retention and absences, since poor financial well-being is linked with other aspects of well-being such as stress and mental health issues.

The XpertHR resource on addressing financial wellness in the workplace offers a range of information and guidance on developing a successful approach to financial well-being in your organization.

The Rewards of Proper Line Manager Training

Line managers have a responsibility to support employees with their well-being. As such, it is imperative that organizations provide them with the necessary training to do this. Our global survey highlighted that most organizations do not provide managers with training that is specific to well-being issues. Consequently, employees may not feel appropriately supported by their line manager and may not be receiving the appropriate accommodations and support to keep them in work. The consequences of this for employees may include increased absences, difficult relationships with their manager, and poor performance.

In addition to offering training for managers to help support employee well-being, organizations should also consider the most appropriate and effective way to deliver such training. Evidence shows that some factors, including face-to-face delivery, training over a longer term and interactive sessions, can make training more beneficial. Effective training can have a variety of benefits, such as creating a better work environment for employees and contributing to lower absence rates and lower staff turnover, which demonstrates the clear advantages for organizations and employees alike of introducing effective line manager well-being training.