There is a growing body of evidence that suggests that improving basic managerial competences is a crucial part of solving the UK’s ‘productivity puzzle’. Although line managers play a crucial role in shaping experiences of work, there is growing evidence that they lack the skills needed to manage people effectively and to identify, address and resolve difficult personnel issues. Therefore, training programmes designed to increase their basic people management skills, including the capacity to deal with conflict, could be one way of securing higher levels of employee engagement and improved productivity. Unfortunately, there has been no robust quantitative academic research in this area, making it difficult to build a persuasive business case for investment in conflict management competences. This project funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) (ES/S012796/1) will fill this gap by providing a detailed evaluation of the impact on engagement and productivity arising from training managers in conflict and other core competencies that might foster improved working relationships.

Methods and participants

The project revolves around a randomised control trial of an innovative online training intervention for managers (Skilled Managers) within a range of public and private sector organisations. The research team, working closely with the Advisory Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas), have designed a course that aims to develop conflict resolution skills among first-line managers; to enhance key skills including communication skills, giving effective feedback, managing conflict at work and conducting difficult conversations. The project will analyse data from the training itself and staff pulse surveys to explore changes in managers’ practice, the quality of their relationships with staff, and evaluate whether this translates into improved performance.

Fieldwork, findings and outputs

We have been trialling the intervention with selected organisations and are now entering the main stage of the investigation. This will involve a more intensive programme of research, training a larger number of managers in order to identify causal impacts on a range of key metrics, including employee engagement and productivity. Early findings from the research will be shared through the PrOPEL website and through a range of working papers and knowledge exchange events. These will help to inform organisational strategy in relation to the development of line managerial skills and conflict management capacity. 

Research team

The project team is comprised of Professor Peter Urwin and Professor Richard Saundry of the University of Westminster, Professor Paul Latreille of the University of Sheffield and Gill Dix, Head of Workplace Policy at Acas.

Get involved

For more information visit our website (https://skilledmanagers.org) or contact our team by emailing skilledmanagers@westminster.ac.uk for a demonstration of the Skilled Managers online intervention.

Learn More

At the PrOPEL Hub Research Showcase, the team shared more about their research: