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It’s the job of the HR department to recruit and retain staff, manage employee benefits, and spearhead internal branding and engagement initiatives. But HR sinks or swims according to the level of support it receives from managers and board members. No matter how bold or innovative the strategies developed by HR professionals, little can happen without support from internal leaders and managers.

Without that support, employee well-being and performance undoubtedly suffer, according to “Developmental HRM, employee well-being, and performance: The moderating role of developing leadership,” a paper published recently in the European Management Review by Elise Marescaux, PhD, assistant professor of human resources management at IÉSEG School of Management in Paris, France.

HR departments may create the procedures, tools, and practices necessary to engage employees and keep productivity high, but it’s the employees’ supervisors who have to put those things into practice, according to Marescaux. After all, supervisors are the ones who conduct performance appraisals, make recommendations for promotions, and identify training needs. Supervisors are much closer to front-line employees than HR pros are by virtue of the org chart. As such, they are better positioned than HR pros are to understand employees’ needs.

“[Supervisors] are the linchpin between the HR department and employees and are extremely well-placed to make suggestions to HRM on how to innovate its activities or implement the existing procedures, tools, and practices in an innovative way to better suit the needs of employees,” Marescaux says. “This, however, cannot happen without supervisor involvement in the design and implementation of HRM.”

Wellness and Development Go Hand in Hand

Any seasoned HR professional can tell you retention requires both frequent engagement and clear career paths that help employees see their futures with a company. Marescaux’s study supports this fact, but it also reveals that engagement and development efforts can be relatively meaningless without the support of front-line managers.

“We found that offering employees career counseling, performance and developmental appraisals, and promotion opportunities can lead to increased well-being in the form of higher commitment and/or lower exhaustion,” Marescaux says. “Yet, we also established that this only happens when these initiatives are accompanied by a supervisor who shows support for employee development in his or her day-to-day behavior toward employees. Without this support, such developmental opportunities can actually reduce employee well-being.”

To operate effectively, it’s crucial for the HR department and hiring managers to collaborate when addressing the needs and concerns of the workforce. HR has the tools and knowledge, while managers are positioned to show employees that the company is concerned with their career growth and general well-being.

“Establishing a good rapport between HRM and first-line supervisors throughout the organization is important for several reasons,” Marescaux says. “Firstly, it is key to ensuring that supervisors are able and motivated to fulfill their HR tasks. To this end, the HR department needs to provide supervisors with the necessary information and skills to perform the HR tasks that are delegated to them. Secondly, it is necessary to create a constructive feedback loop from supervisors to HR. Since supervisors have a very informed view of the needs of employees in terms of HRM, they can provide the HR department with valuable feedback and advice on how to develop HR in a more effective and innovative way.”

Avoiding Burnout

The study also explored the relationship between employee exhaustion and performance. Taking steps to avoid burnout in the workforce must also be a collaborative effort between supervisors and the HR department.

While Marescaux’s research found that exhaustion seemed to have little short-term effect on employee performance, she cautions that long-term exhaustion can lead to burnout, which certainly does affect performance by increasing absenteeism and decreasing employees’ effort levels at work.

Combatting burnout requires building commitment, and building commitment requires investing in employees’ long-term development and career paths within the organization, Marescaux says.

“However, we do emphasize that this should be accompanied by strong leadership at the supervisor level,” she adds. “In other words, both the HR department as well as supervisors have a shared responsibility in ensuring employee commitment through developmental initiatives.”

Burnout across the workforce is the inevitable result when companies focus solely on the bottom line. It should be the mission of any HR department or front-line supervisor to carefully balance employee well-being with the corporate profit margin. Failing to do so will ultimately result in reduced performance and fatigue, ironically causing a negative impact on the bottom line anyway.



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