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Knowledge for Change #8
Leading healthy organizational interventions: The role of line managers in making interventions work

Professor Karina Nielsen, Institute of Work Psychology at the Sheffield University Management School

Prof. Karina Nielsen completed her PhD in Applied Psychology at the University of Nottingham, UK in 2003. Since 2003, Prof. Nielsen has published over 70 per-reviewed journal articles.

Prof. Nielsen’s research interests focus on changing organizations. Her main research area concerns participatory, organizational interventions – from a broad approach perspective. She has developed and tested models for the organizational intervention’s design, implementation and evaluation in order to promote employee wellbeing.

Title: Leading healthy organizational interventions: The role of line managers in making interventions work
Time and place: August 25, 2022, 2.00-4.00 PM, Malmö University, Nordenskiöldsgatan 1, Niagara: COE11, 

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Organizational-level interventions, i.e. interventions that aim to change the way work is organised, designed and managed in order to improve employee psychological health and well-being are widely recommended (ETUC, 2004; EU-OSHA, 2010; ILO, 2001).

 A design with a simple pre-and post-measurement design with randomized controls (the randomized controlled trial, RCT) has been considered the “gold standard” for evaluating organizational interventions, (e.g. Richardson & Rothstein, 2008), however, in recent years, this design has been challenged as it on its own fails to explain “what works for whom in which circumstances” as stipulated by realist evaluation (Pawson & Tilley, 2006; Nielsen & Miraglia, 2017) and models for intervention have been developed that consider the factors that may help or hinder successful implementation (Nielsen & Abildgaard, 2013). 

 One key player in organizational interventions are line managers (Nielsen & Noblet, 2018). They are often the ones who are tasking with planning, implementing and supporting these interventions. In many intervention models and national approaches to organizational interventions, senior management support is often emphasized (Nielsen & Noblet, 2018), but the role of leaders at the first line level in the organisation has received less attention (Nielsen & Noblet, 2018; Nielsen, 2017).  The lack of attention is in contrast to the attention that leaders at this level receive in the current debate and in state-of-the art research on organizational interventions (Nielsen, 2013, Nielsen 2017).

 In my presentation, I will present state of the art of the role of line managers in organizational interventions. It has been argued that line managers can either make or break and intervention and they play and important role of leading the way. I will explore what the role of these leaders is and discuss why line managers at may “break~” and intervention rather than “making it”. I argue that there are important contextual factors that may lead to such behaviours and we need to understand how we can support line managers in making interventions work.  In my presentation 1) I review recent process evaluation studies that provide insights into how leaders may make or break an intervention, both in terms of how they may enforce change to ensure successful intervention implementation but also under which circumstances they are able to do so, 2) I argue there is a need to develop our theoretical understanding of how and why leaders can influence the change process; and finally, 3) I discuss how we may proactively integrate the existing knowledge about the role of line managers in future intervention designs.