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What matters in Manager/Employee relationships during change

I have been asked to talk to a group of Human Resource managers involved in the current amalgamations of NSW Councils.  The request was broad and my colleague simply asked that I speak on how to maintain a positive culture during the coming months and years of the amalgamation process.  A simple enough request. 

Those of you who are involved in this pursuit regularly will notice that if the current culture and the manager - employee relationships are sound and constructive, then you should just keep doing what you are doing. 

But if the current culture and the manager- employee relationships are strained or downright hostile, then the added demands of amalgamation will only add to the current negative or toxic experiences of staff.  So a better approach might be, aside from the amalgamations, to build and maintain a positive workplace culture for all staff. 

There is little doubt that the major factor in workplace culture is the connections between the managers and each staff member.  This is not new.  Aristotle reminded us 2400 years ago about the relationship needed for positive influence (rhetoric as he called it), and the brilliant insight was – to listen to the other person’s point of view before offering your own (he called it pathos).

Research covering 20,000 employees in Sweden, Finland, Germany, Poland, & Italy found if employees felt disconnected from their manager, they were more likely to get sick, miss work, or even suffer a heart attack, than those who felt connected.

Another study considered insecurity at work and followed 1700 adults between 3 to 10 years found increased sickness, more absences from work, and that it was a better predictor for poor health than high blood pressure and smoking.

(These studies and others are presented in the book Shine – Using Brain Science to Get the Best from Your People by Edward M. Hallowell MD.)

The issue for many managers today in the challenging times of amalgamations is that often their own welfare is not being looked after.  The question I have asked before is “who is looking after the managers?”   It is one thing to challenge or even demand that managers be empathic and supportive of their staff, but they are people too and sometimes need more support and empathy during these trying times.  Again the research is quite clear that the managers who are actively supporting their staff, and themselves, are seeking and obtaining the necessary and appropriate support. The research also shows that they are strongly and positively associated with constructive work cultures that are more able to weather the storm of changing times

Macquarie University in 2006 surveyed over 10000 employees to identify the mechanism supporting engaged employees.  They identified, among others, passion as a high contributor to employee engagement.  But what encouraged or supported this passion in an employee?   They found three strong correlates which were:

  • purpose – a belief in the vision, directions  and ethics of the organisation

  • participation – the extent to which staff feel involved, recognised and growing

  • progress – achieving objectives, successful change, satisfied customers

My own research covered about 2000 outdoor team leaders and supervisors in local government. When asked what they expected from their leaders the overwhelming response was:

  • honesty

  • supportive

  • respect

  • knowledgeable

In conclusion I argue that there is clear evidence, with significant support, for concluding that the strength of the manager’s relationship with each employee will ensure that both the employee’s health will be improved and the organisation will benefit with high levels of productivity.

Norm Turkington’s website is:



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