Managerial Competences, Engagement and Productivity

This ESRC-funded project will evaluate the impact of training interventions designed to equip line managers with conflict competence and other skills needed to foster positive relationships with those they manage.

A manager having a meeting with her staff in an office environment

Managerial Competences, Engagement and Productivity - Developing Positive Relationships

Project description

There is a growing body of evidence that poor management is one of the main causes of low productivity. The UK government's recent Industrial Strategy noted that 'our managers are, on average, less proficient than many competitors' and therefore it has been argued that improving basic managerial competences is crucial if we are to solve the 'productivity puzzle'. However, the challenges facing line managers are becoming increasingly complex. In particular, the contemporary emphasis on more robust approaches to the management of performance makes it more likely that managers will find themselves having to have 'difficult conversations' and in conflict with their staff.

Workplace conflict is not only widespread but arguably inhibits workplace productivity by tying up valuable organisational resources. A CIPD survey found that over one-third of respondents had recent experience of conflict at work and it has been estimated that employees spend an average of 1.8 hours a week dealing with conflict, an annual loss of 370 million days. At the same time, the way in which managers handle conflict could have a significant impact on organisational performance by influencing levels of engagement; employees are more likely to be engaged if they feel that they are treated fairly and involved in decisions that affect them.

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 identify, address and resolve difficult personnel issues. Therefore, training programmes designed to increase their 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 aims to fill this gap by providing a detailed evaluation of the impact on engagement and productivity of 'conflict competence'. This will be conducted through a workplace trial of training interventions designed to develop the conflict resolution skills of line managers in a number of organisations in the private and public sectors. Working closely with the Advisory Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) the project will trial two levels of skills development.
The first is designed to develop conflict resolution skills for first-line managers. The second will add a further component by providing more advanced training to prepare senior leaders to provide support and coaching to their managers as they seek to navigate difficult personnel issues. The workshops will use a mediative model to develop the conflict competence of managers through key skills including listening, communication, influencing, reframing and negotiation, having difficult conversations and coaching.
The impact of each intervention will be tracked over a 12 month period by assessing the competence and confidence of managers, the experiences and attitudes of the employees they manage, the efficiency with which conflict is handled and measures of organisational productivity. This will be contextualised by interviews and focus groups to examine the processes through which productivity improvements are secured and also the potential barriers facing organisations.

The project will provide a valuable evidence base regarding the impact of training and development in conflict resolution skills. It not only aims to have a substantive impact on managerial competence within the case-study organisations but will also underpin the development of training tools which can be replicated in a range of organisational contexts. Furthermore, insights from the research will be shared with practitioner and policy-making communities through a comprehensive programme of dissemination and engagement.

Key research outputs


Principal investigator

Professor Richard Saundry

Principal Research Fellow

University of Westminster

Professor Peter Urwin

Professor of Applied Economics

University of Westminster

Gill Dix

Head of Workplace Policy



University of Sheffield, United Kingdom (Lead Research Organisation) ACAS, United Kingdom (Project Partner) Managing Partners' Forum (Project Partner)