Employee engagement and wellbeing are among the most important people outcomes in an organisation, as both have been linked to improved performance. Moreover, and perhaps more importantly, achieving both of those outcomes underpins the long-term health of an organisation. If employees are both engaged and well, they are likely to continue to deliver the results, ensuring sustainability of the business.

CIPD (2012) has previously demonstrated how important line manager behaviours are for supporting employee engagement and wellbeing, and have developed a framework of the impactful behaviours. Already about 9 in 10 organisations in the UK are investing in developing line manager capability (CIPD 2013). Yet, many continue to report that the application of managerial skills is not always visible in practice, suggesting that not all manager development translates into how line managers behave day-to-day (CIPD 2013).

A new report by Affinity Health at Work, sponsored by the CIPD, IOSH and the Affinity Health at Work Research Consortium, considered the factors that can either diminish or enhance the effectiveness of manager development programmes. To gather insights, it relied on a combination of sources in an ‘evidence-based approach’, taking into account both academic and practitioner literature, as well as consulting with those who develop and embed manager development programmes in practice.

The research recommends that in order to effectively develop line managers, who support employee engagement and wellbeing, practitioners are mindful of three aspects of the development programmes: 1) the training itself; 2) characteristics of managers who are expected to learn new skills and adopt new behaviours; and 3) the organisational context.

Programme design must be centred on clarity and consistency of messages, as well as relevance of the training content to the immediate line manager duties, as lack of opportunities to practise the newly learned skills is likely to decrease managers’ ability to apply those continuously. Crucially, the training should stress the accountability of line managers to apply learning: this includes taking pledges, taking part in discussion groups, mentoring each other, and seeking feedback from peers and their direct reports.

Individual manager characteristics, in particular, self-awareness and interest in learning, are also important. Managers who prioritise their personal development, and know their strengths and weaknesses, are likely to benefit the most. On the other hand, managers who are initially less engaged with the programme, learning in general, or are less self-aware managers will require preparation for the development course and/or more support throughout the training.

Finally – although not always seen within the scope of training programmes – organisational contextual factors must be addressed by the development programmes. Even where line managers have knowledge and skills to support employees, they sometimes struggle to behave accordingly, simply because the organisational structures and processes present them with contextual barriers, such as lack of empowerment, perverse incentives, and lack of clarity in the job design (CIPD 2014). As much as possible consistency between the programme messages and the organisational environment should be achieved, and supported by role-modelling from the top leadership team.

The range of factors that can either diminish or enhance manager learning call for a considered and systemic approach to designing, implementing and embedding manager development. Organisations that are looking to develop line managers who support employee engagement and wellbeing should consider mapping out how the various factors can impact the success of the development programme, and address the aspects of training, line manager characteristics, and the organisational context, which are within their control.

To help practitioners consider the range of factors impacting training effectiveness, the researchers have designed checklists covering the three areas of impact. These checklists are available at www.cipd.co.uk/hr-resources/research/developing-managers.aspx

Understanding that organisations might be at different stages of their journey in developing managers, the checklists are tailored to those who are:

  • considering conducting a development programme but haven’t started yet
  • have started designing or are currently implementing a development programme
  • have already implemented a development programme in order to support the embedding of learning into the workplace



CIPD (2012) Managing for sustainable employee engagement. London: CIPD.

CIPD (2013) Real-life leaders: closing the knowing-doing gap. London: CIPD.

CIPD (2014) Leadership – easier said than done. London: CIPD.

Ksenia Zheltoukhova is a Research Adviser at CIPD. You can contact her on [email protected]