Being able to engage with your workforce has never been more important. Line managers are ideally placed to create a culture of good mental wellbeing and to spot changes in behaviour or performance that could indicate underlying mental health issues in their colleagues.
We know that line managers want to support their teams in this way but often feel that they lack the skills or confidence to know how to go about this. We also know that the pressures on line managers can be immense and they may struggle themselves; at those times they will benefit from an empathic and proactive response from their own manager.
Flavia Gapper, Director of Help and Advice at The Charity for Civil Servants, spoke to Poppy Jaman, previous CEO of Mental Health First Aid England about how line managers can help create a positive working environment which helps support staff with mental wellbeing issues and ensures that they flourish.
Why is the mental wellbeing of employees important? What role does good mental health play in the working world?
“Organisations which have well developed policies around employee mental wellbeing are rewarded in terms of employee engagement, morale, productivity and loyalty. Supporting mental wellbeing is therefore key to building a successful, functional workplace, particularly in this post-recession era where many employers are under pressure to do more with less.”
What role do managers play when it comes to the mental wellbeing of their staff? Where do responsibilities lie?
“From the work Mental Health First Aid England do with organisations of all sizes, we know the positive impact that training line managers in Mental Health First Aid can have; however, responsibilities also lie higher up the management chain and indeed with the individual employee.”
What sort of things might affect someone’s mental wellbeing in a working environment? What can employers do to address them?
“One of the most important factors contributing to mental health issues in the workplace can be many people’s lack of awareness of their own mental health.
“Factors such as working long hours in high pressure jobs, poor line management and workplace bullying are all factors which can contribute to a person feeling stressed which in turn can trigger mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.
“Resilience training and development can help employees develop strategies to deal with the impact of stress but it is also important that employers do all they can to create a culture which promotes good working practices such as workload management, best practice line management training and small but important things like ensuring employees take regular breaks.”
How can a manager recognise the symptoms of a mental health problem within their own team?
“Tell-tale signs for managers to be aware of in day-to-day work patterns could be, for example, team members missing deadlines, forgetting tasks, taking on too much work or having increased sickness absence. It’s also important to look out for physical indicators such as tiredness, personal appearance changes, sudden weight loss or gain and emotional indicators including withdrawal, irritability, loss of concentration and low self-confidence.”
Some managers may be concerned they could make things worse for someone with a mental health issue by discussing it… what advice can you give managers on providing initial help in these situations?
“Approaching a colleague and offering reassurance and initial support is always the right course of action, but does need to be done sensitively and tactfully. The alternative is the risk of that person feeling isolated and that they have no one to talk to - which has potentially damaging consequences both for that individual and for the wider team.
“Starting a conversation can be as simple as discreetly asking to meet with that person and inviting them to talk about how they’re feeling. Always ensure to allow plenty of time for this kind of meeting and try to keep the conversation positive and supportive. Think about the words you use and your body language and try to respect that person’s frame of reference. An initial conversation can go a long way to helping a colleague experiencing emotional distress to feel supported.”
What key organisations could managers refer their colleagues to for further support?
“A good starting point is the employer’s own Employee Assistance Programme – many organisations have them and they are a good first port of call when considering guiding a colleague to professional help. If this isn’t an option, then depending on how the person is feeling, it might be appropriate to suggest they contact their welfare officer at work or their GP to discuss their symptoms.
“It’s worth knowing that Mental Health First Aid England has been working with employers in the private, public, education and armed forces sectors for ten years to deliver mental health training to meet their needs. Anyone who attends a Mental Health First Aid England course is given a comprehensive reference manual – this is also a useful resource as it includes details of organisations such as Mind, Rethink Mental Illness, SANE and the Samaritans – who all provide advice and information.”
My interview with Poppy really emphasises the important role managers play in promoting wellbeing amongst their teams. At The Charity for Civil Servants we proactively focus on wellbeing and address the issues and stigma that many people find themselves facing. If you or someone you know might benefit from contacting us, please do signpost them to us. The wellbeing information on our website may well help to improve or retain good emotional health – and we may even be able to facilitate a confidential guided wellbeing conversation with one of our advisors.