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Barriers to frontline manager support for high-trauma workers

Ashlea Kate Kellner (Centre for Work, Organisation and Wellbeing, Griffith University, Nathan, Australia)
Keith Townsend (Department of Employment Relations and Human Resources, Griffith University, Nathan, Australia)
Rebecca Loudoun (Department of Employment Relations and Human Resources, Griffith University, Nathan, Australia)
Adrian Wilkinson (Centre for Work, Organisation and Wellbeing, Griffith University, Nathan, Australia)

Personnel Review

ISSN: 0048-3486

Article publication date: 23 August 2019

Issue publication date: 23 August 2019

Abstract

Purpose

Exposure to high-trauma work has been associated with negative outcomes for individuals and organisations. Support for these employees can buffer and protect against mental health problems. Frontline managers (FLMs) are well placed to provide for employee support needs but are often not effective in doing so. The purpose of this paper is to identify and understand barriers to provision of four different types of social support as identified by House (1981) by FLMs to employees in a high-trauma workplace.

Design/methodology/approach

This qualitative study investigates three Australian ambulance service organisations, including 72 interviews.

Findings

Nine barriers to support are identified that can obstruct the provision of optimum employee support. These relate to the FLM themselves, the workplace context and employee-centric factors.

Research limitations/implications

This paper is a single industry case study; further complexity may exist in other high-trauma industries. Future research should consult policy makers to develop strategies to address the barriers to FLM support.

Practical implications

FLMs are critical support persons as they are well placed to provide many employee support needs. Emotional support is the foundation for facilitating all other types of support to employees but results here indicate it is often lacking for workers in high-trauma workplaces for a range of individual and organisational barriers that operate in isolation and combined.

Originality/value

This paper juxtaposes House’s (1981) support framework with study findings to provide a model of the barriers to optimal employee support. This model contributes to a reconceptualisation of the relationship between employee and direct manager that is particularly pertinent for high-trauma contexts.

Keywords

Citation

Kellner, A.K., Townsend, K., Loudoun, R. and Wilkinson, A. (2019), "Barriers to frontline manager support for high-trauma workers", Personnel Review, Vol. 48 No. 6, pp. 1394-1409. https://doi.org/10.1108/PR-10-2018-0397

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2019, Emerald Publishing Limited