In today’s dynamic and competitive business landscape, the employee mental health has emerged as a critical concern. The impact of employee well-being on organisational success is undeniable, making it imperative for companies to prioritise mental health in the workplace. Central to this endeavour is the pivotal role that managers play in fostering a mentally healthy workforce.
Employee mental health is not merely a matter of personal well-being; it directly influences productivity, job satisfaction, and overall company performance. Recent data, however, indicates a concerning trend: according to the Stress Statistics UK 2023 report, a staggering 76% of employees report moderate-to-high or high levels of stress. Compared to 2022, this number has increased from 67%, reflecting a significant growth of 13%. As this issue continues to gain prominence, the responsibilities of managers in supporting and safeguarding their team members’ mental well-being have become increasingly significant.
This article delves into the pressing issue of employee mental health, emphasising the vital role of managers in this context. It explores how managers can effectively promote mental well-being among their teams, highlighting the impact of their actions and attitudes on both individual employees and the overall organisational health.
The Manager’s Role in Employee Mental Health
Managers are pivotal figures in organisations, occupying a vital position between leadership and the frontline workforce. They shoulder not only the responsibility of driving performance, but also the crucial task of facilitating an environment which supports the mental wellbeing of their teams. However, the current landscape often falls short of realising the full potential of the role managers can play in supporting employee mental health.
In many organisations, managers may not fully grasp the importance of their role in recognising and addressing mental health concerns. This can stem from a lack of awareness or limited training in this area. Indeed, recent survey data indicates that 62% of line managers feel they don’t receive enough support from their organisations to effectively address the mental wellbeing of their staff. What is more, 57% of respondents stated their organisation offers no mental health and wellbeing training and/or support for managerial staff.
However, there’s an additional layer to this challenge: the relentless pressure on managers to prioritise performance metrics; in a poll of 4,000 UK workers conducted by Business in the Community (BITC) and YouGov, 62% of managers stated they tend to put company interest above employee wellness. In their pursuit of meeting targets and KPIs, managers often inadvertently overlook the mental health and wellbeing of their team members.
This dual challenge creates a scenario where mental health issues among employees may go unnoticed or unaddressed. The consequences of this disconnect between the role’s significance and the existing practices can be severe, both for individuals struggling with their mental health and for the organisation as a whole. Burnout, stress, decreased job satisfaction, and reduced productivity are some of the adverse outcomes that can emerge from this situation.
To overcome these multifaceted challenges, organisations must first recognise the critical nature of training managers in mental health support, especially within the context of performance pressures. Training should emphasise that prioritising employee wellbeing doesn’t mean sacrificing performance. In fact, good mental health has been reported to improve job satisfaction, engagement, and overall productivity, reducing potential costs of mental-health-related absence.
By addressing the pressure managers face and showing that supporting mental health can be a strategic advantage, organisations can bridge the gap between the current underestimation of their role and the potential for positive change.
Manager Training for Mental Health: The Basics
Equipping managers with the knowledge and skills to effectively address employee mental health concerns is a critical step in creating a mentally healthy workplace. Training programmes tailored for managers play a pivotal role in achieving this objective. They empower managers with the skills needed to recognise signs of mental health concerns, communicate effectively, and provide appropriate support. They also help managers understand the complexities of mental health, reduce stigma, and foster a more inclusive workplace culture. Furthermore, managers trained in mental health awareness can identify issues early, allowing for timely intervention and support, which can prevent more severe problems from arising. In this way, managers not only contribute to improved overall wellbeing and job satisfaction, but also improve retention.
Effective training programmes for managers should include the following components:
- Mental Health Education: Training should cover a range of mental health topics, including common conditions, signs and symptoms, and the impact of mental health on the workplace.
- Communication Skills: Managers should be trained in active listening, empathetic communication, and discussing mental health concerns sensitively.
- Recognising Signs: Managers should learn to identify behavioural, emotional, and physical signs of mental health concerns in their team members.
- Resource Awareness: Training should familiarise managers with available mental health resources, both within and outside the organisation.
- Case Scenarios: Practical case scenarios and role-playing can help prepare managers apply their knowledge and skills in real-life situations.
It’s worth noting businesses can also benefit from partnering with external mental health organisations or professionals to provide training programmes. These external partnerships can bring specialised expertise and resources to enhance the effectiveness of manager training.
Furthermore, manager training should not be a one-time event. Ongoing support, including access to resources, peer networks, and refresher training, ensures that managers remain well-equipped to address mental health concerns as they arise.
To gauge the effectiveness of manager training programmes, organisations can track metrics such as:
- Increased awareness and understanding of mental health issues among managers
- Timely identification and intervention in mental health concerns
- Employee feedback on manager support for mental health
- Retention rates and job satisfaction among team members
Recognising Signs of Mental Health Concerns
Managers are the first line of defence when it comes to recognising signs of mental health concerns among their team members. The ability to spot these signs early is crucial in providing timely support and intervention. The key indicators that managers should be vigilant about include:
- Changes in Communication: Effective communication is vital in any workplace, and alterations in an employee’s communication style can be revealing. Managers should take note if team members become unusually quiet, struggle to articulate thoughts, or exhibit overly emotional or agitated speech patterns. These changes may indicate emotional distress or anxiety.
- Physical Symptoms: Physical symptoms like fatigue, headaches, muscle tension, and sleep disturbances can be physical manifestations of mental health issues. Managers should be aware of employees reporting these symptoms, as they may be tied to stress, anxiety, or depression.
- Declining Work Performance: A noticeable decline in work performance, missed deadlines, increased errors, or decreased productivity can be indicative of underlying mental health concerns. Managers should approach such issues with empathy and inquire about potential factors affecting performance.
- Attendance and Punctuality: Frequent absenteeism, tardiness, or unexplained leaves of absence may signal mental health challenges. Managers should engage in open and non-judgmental discussions with employees facing attendance issues to understand and provide support for their situations.
- Emotional Responses: Observing extreme emotional responses, such as outbursts of anger or tearfulness, can be an indication of emotional struggles. Managers should create a safe space for employees to express their emotions and concerns.
- Peer Observations: Encouraging team members to look out for one another can also be instrumental in recognising signs of mental health concerns. Colleagues may notice changes that a manager may overlook. Promote a culture of support and open communication within the team.
When managers notice signs of mental health concerns, it’s essential to document observations discreetly and sensitively. Then, initiate a private and empathetic conversation with the affected employee to express concern and offer support. It’s crucial to listen actively, show understanding, and avoid making assumptions.
Communicating with Empathy and Sensitivity
Recognising signs of mental health concerns is only the first step; how managers respond to these signs is equally vital. Effective communication with empathy and sensitivity is the cornerstone of providing support to employees facing mental health challenges:
- Create a Safe Space: Managers should strive to create an environment where employees feel safe discussing their mental health concerns. This means fostering trust, confidentiality, and non-judgmental attitudes. Team members should know they can approach their manager without fear of repercussions.
- Active Listening: Active listening is an essential skill for managers. When an employee opens up about their mental health, managers should give their full attention, ask open-ended questions, and refrain from interrupting. Listening attentively demonstrates respect and empathy.
- Use Empathetic Language: Empathetic language can convey understanding and support. Phrases such as ‘How are you doing?’, ‘How can I support you?’ and ‘Let’s find a solution together’ foster trust and express willingness to help. Dismissive or stigmatising language should be avoided.
- Offer Resources: Managers should be knowledgeable about available mental health resources within the organisation and the community. When discussing mental health concerns with employees, they can provide information on Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs), counselling services, or support groups. Offering resources demonstrates a proactive approach to support.
- Discuss Accommodations: In some cases, employees may require workplace accommodations to manage their mental health effectively. Managers should be open to discussing reasonable adjustments to workload, schedules, or responsibilities. Collaborative problem-solving can lead to solutions that benefit both the employee and the organisation.
- Follow Up: After an initial conversation, it’s essential for managers to follow up with the employee. Checking in shows ongoing support and genuine concern for their well-being. It also provides an opportunity to discuss any progress or further assistance required.
- Respect Boundaries: While open communication is crucial, it’s equally important to respect an employee’s boundaries. Some individuals may not wish to disclose the full extent of their mental health concerns, and that choice should be respected. Managers should only discuss what the employee is comfortable sharing.
Creating a Supportive Organisational Culture
Ultimately, the goal of manager mental health training is to create a culture where mental health is a top priority, stigma is reduced, and employees feel supported and empowered to seek help when needed. This has a positive impact not only on individual wellbeing but also overall organisational success: according to a study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, businesses that addressed employee mental health experienced reduced absenteeism and presenteeism, as well as increased work performance.
To realise this cultural shift effectively, however, it’s crucial to recognise that manager training is most impactful when combined with a holistic approach that also addresses several additional factors:
- Leadership Commitment: A mentally healthy workplace starts at the top. Leadership commitment to promoting mental health is crucial. Executives and senior leaders should demonstrate their dedication to employee wellbeing through their actions, policies, and messaging.
- Policy Development: Organisations should develop clear and comprehensive mental health policies that outline expectations, support mechanisms, and resources available to employees. These policies should destigmatise mental health, promote help-seeking behaviour, and provide guidelines for accommodation.
- Communication and Awareness: Regular communication and awareness campaigns can reduce stigma and educate employees about available mental health resources. This can include newsletters, workshops, webinars, and internal social platforms dedicated to mental health discussions.
- Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs): EAPs are valuable resources that organisations can provide to employees. These programmes offer confidential counselling and support services to address a wide range of personal and work-related issues, including mental health concerns.
- Flexible Work Arrangements: Offering flexible work arrangements, such as remote work options or flexible hours, can greatly benefit employees dealing with mental health challenges. In fact, a survey of employees from 115 companies conducted by Wildgoose found that 39% of those who had been offered the opportunity to work flexibly experienced improved mental health.
- Inclusivity and Diversity: Promoting inclusivity and diversity in the workplace contributes to a culture where every employee feels valued and respected. Such an environment can reduce stressors related to discrimination and bias, benefiting mental health.
In today’s dynamic work environment, prioritising employee mental health is not just an option; it’s a necessity. Managers play a pivotal role in recognising signs of mental health concerns, offering support, and creating a culture that fosters wellbeing. However, for managers to excel in this role, they require proper training and guidance.
Investing in manager training programmes that focus on mental health awareness, communication skills, and resource utilisation is an investment in both employee wellbeing and organisational success. Such training empowers managers to identify signs of mental health issues, initiate empathetic conversations, and connect employees with appropriate resources.
As we navigate the challenges of the modern workplace, let’s remember that employee mental health is not an isolated issue; it’s integral to overall organisational wellbeing. By embracing this perspective and taking proactive steps to support mental health, businesses can create a brighter future both for their employees and their bottom line.