Development opportunities need manager buy-in to succeed

HR practices that aim to develop employees’ skills for current or future roles will only be successful with the support of line managers, a study has found.

Research by French business school IÉSEG School of Management discovered that employees will feel more committed to growing their skill sets if their organisation offers training and self-development options that have buy-in from their superiors.

The study – Developmental HRM, employee wellbeing and performance: The moderating role of developing leadership – found activities like career counselling and development appraisals could damage employee wellbeing in the absence of leadership.

“Going through career counselling or an appraisal can be stressful if your supervisor sees it as a waste of time and doesn’t take it seriously,” explains Elise Marescaux, assistant professor in human resources management at IÉSEG School of Management.

“The HR system and protocols in place can be well developed and have great potential but if supervisors do not encourage employees to use them, the return on company investment will be minimal.”

The study looked at how HR practices affect wellbeing and performance for 426 employees at seven Belgian organisations in different sectors, ranging from a hospital to a consultancy.

It focused on employee development processes, including training, promotion opportunities, career counselling and appraisals.

Some employees’ supervisors showed “development leadership” and supported staff through coaching and advice. Others did not, and their employees were less likely to perform well.

Marescaux recommended that supervisors are involved in HR decisions and are trained to ensure development schemes are carried out in a way that provides the greatest benefits to the employer, by making sure staff are engaged.

Employees should be able to reach out to their supervisors for support so they can develop their skills when they need to.

Increased employee wellbeing did not necessarily mean employees were performing better. However, staff who were “committed” to their organisation tended to perform well.

Exhaustion was unlikely to have an effect on performance in the short term, but the study claimed it could result in burnout if it persisted.

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