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Improving line management

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Research and reports
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The current state of line management

The number of line managers

In 2018, according to the Labour Force Survey (LFS) 37  , there were around 6.8 million managers in the UK. Managerial status is self-reported, which means that a quarter of all employees told the LFS that they were a manager. A further 11 per cent (3 million employees) reported being foremen or supervisors. The percentage of employees who are managers is pretty much the same as it was ten years ago, when 26 per cent of employees were managers 38 .

  • 37 LFS 2018, an average of the four quarters
  • 38 LFS 2008, an average of the four quarters 
Percentage of managers by industry
Sources: LFS,2018

Men are overrepresented in management, with 59 per cent of managers being male, compared to 51 per cent of all employees. This has improved little since a decade ago, when 60 per cent of managers were men. Middle-aged white men are particularly overrepresented. White men aged 30 to 59 make up 29 per cent of employees, but 43 per cent of managers.

The percentage of managers varies by industry. In some industries, over a third of employees report themselves as managers (e.g. information and communication, professional, scientific, technical activities, real estate, and financial and insurance activities). In others, such as transport, retail, admin, and accommodation, it’s just on-in-five or less. The male/female split also varies by industry.



As you’d expect, there’s a substantial pay gap between those who manage and those who don’t, with the average manager earning £8.82 per hour more than someone who isn’t a manager or supervisor (£18.90 compared to £10.08)[fn value=39]LFS 2018, an average of the four quarters. Median gross hourly pay [/fn].

But while being manager likely means being paid more than those in your workplace who don’t manage, it doesn’t necessarily mean being well paid. The Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings (ASHE) shows us that in 2018, hourly pay for managers in sectors such as hospitality and leisure, agriculture, and retail and wholesale was below the average pay for all employees[fn value=40]ASHE 2018: Table 14.6a, ONS. Median hourly pay excluding overtime: ccupation4digitsoc2010ashetable14 [/fn].

The views of workers

Any discussion of line management needs to involve the workers who are being line managed. To capture their experiences, we commissioned GQR to poll 2,145 workers in July-August 2018. We asked workers how well a number of statements reflected their experience of work. These statements covered areas such as:

  • Rights at work
  • Feeling supported
  • Whether they’re trusted to do the job

Respondents were asked how well each statement described their workplace and line managers using a five-point scale:

  1. Very well
  2. Quite well
  3. A little
  4. Not at all
  5. Don’t know

What we found had a few positives, but some big concerns. While the majority of workers feel supported and informed by their line managers, there’s a much too significant chunk who don’t. There are clear areas of concern. Too many workers don’t feel like their manager helps morale at work, and an alarming number of people don’t feel like their manager is making sure they know their rights at work.

Feeling supported at work

An essential part of the line manager role is providing support to those you manage. Line managers are often the first port of call for workers who need advice or help in the workplace, so it’s important that they create a healthy and supportive work culture.

Morale at work is an area that clearly needs improvement. Almost one-in-five workers told us that the phrase “my line manager helps morale at work” in no way reflects their personal experience. The statement was met with the lowest net score (the score you get when you subtract the combined percentages for “a little well” and “not at all” from the total of “very well” and “quite well”) of 4. The chart below shows the percentage of people who fall into each category.


Subtract the combined percentages for “a little well” and “not at all” from the total of “very well” and “quite well”) of 4. The chart below shows the percentage of people who fall into each category.

My line manager helps morale at work

There are further concerns when it comes to being supported at work. A third of workers don’t particularly feel that their line manager would support them if they faced a problem at work, with one-in-ten thinking they definitely wouldn’t. As well as this:

  • Almost a third of workers don’t feel comfortable approaching their line manager about any issues they’re having at work
  • Only around a fifth of workers think “my line manager wants what’s best for me” is a very accurate summary of their workplace experience

It’s fair to expect your line manager to have your back and want what’s best for you, but for way too many people, that isn’t the case. We also expect our line managers to treat us fairly, but this is another area where working people are being let down. 35 per cent of workers don’t think their line manager treats them and their colleagues fairly at work.

Workplace and manager chart

The majority of workers do believe that their line manager supports them, treats them fairly, and would have their back if they had a problem. But in each of these categories, there’s a worryingly large number of workers who think the opposite, or are at least sceptical about it. This is worrying, as the least any of us expect at work is to be able to go to our line managers with a concern, or to have that feeling that someone’s there for us if something’s wrong.

Rights at work

In September 2018, the government began to measure public awareness and understanding of workplace rights for the first time. This was done as part of the public attitudes tracker carried out by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) 41 .

As part of the survey, employees were asked where they would go if they needed to find out more about their employment rights. Almost half of employees (46 per cent) said they’d ask their employer or HR department. This was the most common answer, with “general internet search” and trade unions being joint second by quite a distance (21 per cent).

Given that a lot of workers are seeing their employer as the key source of information on employment rights, employers and line managers clearly have a role to play in ensuring workers know their rights.

Unfortunately, not all line managers are living up to this role. As part of our survey, we asked workers how well the following statement summarised their workplace and line manager:

My line manager makes sure I know my rights at work.

18 per cent told us that this does not at all reflect their experience of line management. 26 per cent said it reflected it “a little less well” than the more positive options available. Overall, therefore, around 44 per cent of the workers we asked didn’t feel that it was accurate to say that their line manager is ensuring they know their rights at work. This statement received the lowest net score (4), joint with the statement on morale mentioned above.

line manager make sure I know my rights at work

This is a clear concern, especially as Acas lists ensuring team members are aware of their employment and contractual rights as one of the duties of a line manager. It adds that managers should be ensuring that the team members actually receive all of these employment and contractual rights 42 . It also fits in with another finding from the BEIS survey: almost a third of employees have little or no knowledge of their employment rights.

The BEIS survey found that while around 70 per cent of employees said they knew “a lot” or “a fair amount” about their employment rights at work, a quarter of employees said they only knew “a little”. A further 4 per cent said they knew nothing about them. This leaves 28 per cent of employees saying they know either nothing or just a little about their rights.

know employment rights at work
Source: BEIS

Unfortunately, the survey does not test any knowledge of these rights, so we can’t be sure how much someone who reports knowing “a lot” or “a fair amount” actually knows. We don’t know if someone who says they know a lot knows about all the rights they have, or just knows a few and thinks that’s everything.

Trusted to do the job

One of the areas where line managers seem to be doing well is trusting workers to get on with their jobs and communicating what work they expect them to do.

When asked how well the statement “my line manager trusts me to do my job” reflects their own line manager, 41 per cent of workers said “very well” and 34 per cent said “quite well”. This is therefore the statement that was most reflective of workers’ line managers, having the highest net score of any of the eight statements (and the only net score to go above 50).

More than two-thirds of workers also feel like they understand what their line manager expects of them, with only 5 per cent saying that they’re line manager is completely failing to communicate this to them.

Describe your workplace and line manager
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