HR must support managers better

Bola Image 3

Bola Ogundeji, Deputy Director of Workforce and OD, Moorfields Eye Hospital, London, says the thing she’s most passionate about in her job is supporting others to get the best out of their teams… which is the topic she’ll be talking about at our forthcoming sister event, The Watercooler on 25 & 26 April.

She’s participating on a panel debate asking how line managers can be better supported to do this, but also better supported to manage their own mental health. In advance of this, we got a heads-up on what she is planning to talk about.

You started out in an investment bank after studying maths. How did you get into HR?

My plan was to become an actuary. I took a detour and joined an investment bank in HR and thought ‘wow, this is a brilliant career’ as I enjoyed the people-facing aspect of the role. So I changed my mind altogether and went on to study HR management for my Master’s instead of financial mathematics.

What makes you well placed to speak about supporting line managers?

My whole 20 year HR career has been about supporting managers to deliver their people management responsibilities in some way. Line managers are often the first point of call and play a big role in helping employees become the best, most productive they can be, but HR must support managers.

How do you think this issue has changed over recent years?

It’s changing and is still evolving. Traditionally there wasn’t much emphasis on the role of line management but research and evidence are beginning to point to the fact that employee engagement within an organisation, and level of job satisfaction felt by staff, are often linked to the management of the team.

I see this empowerment of line managers as a real opportunity. In many cases, the challenges we experience in the people space can be tracked back to a lack of support for managers, who have many other things to do, or lack of people management capability.

How do you empower line managers, when they might perceive this as yet more work to do?

That’s where the support is really important. Yes, there’s sometimes a tension between the day job and line managers being responsible for a team of people, and it’s our job in HR to help them manage that tension well, so it doesn’t cause a problem.

How do you do that?

By making sure we look after the managers themselves psychologically, physically and in every way possible. We help them to accelerate their own learning and reflection about their role, and what that means. It can become automatic for them to focus on delivering in the NHS, but we want to get them to see themselves as managers and act with intention.

How do you get them to do that – see themselves as managers as well as responsible for delivering the job outcomes?

When we’re designing job briefs we make sure that employees understand the people-related expectations of the role. I believe, for this, we need to go right back to how, when we are onboarding line managers, we prepare them for the job through the induction process. But also, throughout the employee lifecycle.

I’m constantly asking myself: how do we keep empowering managers, improving and increasing their capability to manage people? And how do we give them space for their own health or wellbeing?

After all, if there’s no space for them to do that then that’s going to impact on how they support their staff. This is about supporting them through training and giving them reflective spaces to think and learn in. Also, when there are issues, it’s important to give line managers the space after the event to learn from the issues and reflect.

When you say reflective spaces, what do you mean?

So it could be something like away days, for example. Or it could be quarterly reflections with the team, which some line managers here do. Or it could be attending leadership events. Or it could be just ensuring that there’s margin in their day to look at how they are doing and room, if things don’t go to plan, for looking at lessons learned.

You’re working with an exceptionally busy workforce, how do you help them develop those skills, essential for delivering wellbeing policies?

We’ve just refreshed our values and are now doing a behavioural framework around those values. Things like this will help us to clarify the behaviours we are expecting to see.

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I’m also using appraisals, performance reviews and feedback sessions with managers to ensure that we understand what they need.

And are you putting KPIs around these behaviours for managers?

Yes, for my team, there are wellbeing related KPIs and specific objectives around making sure that health and wellbeing are prioritised.

We also have an annual NHS staff survey and, from a national point of view, there are health and wellbeing metrics related to this that we measure and create action plans around.

Some argue that it’s very difficult to measure a line manager’s ability to create psychological safety, or happy, productive teams. How do you think is the best way to do it?

Theres no hard and fast rule as it depends on the organisation. For us, there will be some outcome measures that we want to see. For instance, an outcome measure could be the results of next year’s staff survey. We could compare, for example, the percentage of respondents who say they now dont have workload burnout.

A process measure might be looking at how many people are on long term sickness, for example, due to stress.

What’s the biggest challenge that you have with line managers?

Everybody knows how hard the pandemic was for health workers and other types of essential workers. And now we’re in recovery, addressing things like waiting lists and managing the backlog created by industrial action.

So, whilst trying to balance the health and wellbeing of the populace, there is a direct impact also on the NHS staff trying to deliver healthy outcomes for patients. Of course, burnout is a potential risk here too. But we are trying to manage it, making sure that we’re putting robust plans in place where health and wellbeing support is consistently given.

Do you think it makes your job harder given the alarmist stories about NHS staff feeling fed up and burnout often in the media?

I try not get involved in the political debates about it.

Everything comes down to context.

Yes, there are challenges. But, equally, many people come to the NHS as an employer and want to stay for life and it’s considered a National treasure. People want to work here. So it’s as much an opportunity as it is a challenge. We are not where we want to be when it comes to wellbeing, we still have further to go, but we are making progress and it’s very much on the agenda, an agenda I’m 100% committed to.

To meet Bola in person, and to contribute to the conversation, come along to our sister event the Watercooler on April 25th and 26th, 2023. 

The Watercooler, named in recognition of those crucial moments of connection between employees, is a free to attend conference and exhibition which demonstrates that wellbeing IS the future of work. For themes that were ‘hot topics’ at last year’s event, like line manager wellbeing, see this article.

Taking place at Excel London, The Watercooler event is where you can gather to join ideas together, make connections, learn from peers’ experiences and find the right solutions for your organisation – whatever its size and shape.

For reasons why this is a must-attend event for anyone interested in workplace wellbeing, see this article here

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