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LINE MANAGERS ARE KEY TO EMPLOYEES' MENTAL HEALTH RECOVERY

With one in four employees likely to suffer from a mental health issue, line managers need more training to identify the signs of mental health issues and understand the support their team members need. 

28th April 2017

Being constantly connected to the workplace can be incredibly draining. Creating space for an individual and giving them time to recover from the stresses of a project is important. 

JUSTIN BUCKTHORP, 360 HEALTH & PERFORMANCE

For anyone struggling with anxiety, stress or depression at work, line managers are often at the start of their journey to recovery, and internal communication practitioners have a key role to play in supporting them.

Justin Buckthorp, founder of 360 Health & Performance, a team of clinical and healthcare experts who treat individuals and help organisations educate employees, believes businesses need to recognise that line managers aren’t trained in mental health.

“Internal communicators need to enlighten managers on the basics of mental health and where a person might be at risk – for example, if they notice someone withdrawing socially or not communicating or interacting the way they were,” says Justin.

“Also, they need to encourage a culture where employees can turn off from technology. Being constantly connected to the workplace can be incredibly draining. Creating space for an individual and giving them time to recover from the stresses of a project is important. We call it buffering your physiology.”

 

Managers need the right interpersonal skills

At pharmaceutical company Janssen, before even being moved into a line manager role, employees are assessed to ensure they can engage effectively. “Listening, questioning, sensing and rapport-building are the core interpersonal skills we expect of a line manager,” says Charlie Hamlin, organisation effectiveness manager.

Much of Janssen’s work in the past 18 months has been around helping people think differently about how they allocate their time, explains Charlie.

“We want employees to get the balance right between home, social aspects and the things they enjoy doing that refuel them, and things they are motivated to do within work," she says. "Prevention has always been our mantra, so we looked further at how to take pressures out of the system. We made processes more efficient, set clearer company strategies and launched flexible working. We made it clear that what employees do outside of work is just as important as what they do inside.We empowered individuals to make choices.

“We also supported all our line managers to help them think differently about how they manage people, and to empower them to push back and manage up. If a senior manager needs something at short notice, a line manager needs to feel able to discuss what can be deprioritised.”

Janssen’s senior leaders have been key to that culture shift. “Our MD can often be seen making use of his flexible working time in the onsite gym,” says Charlie. “He works hard, but he’s out of here at a reasonable time on a Friday. It’s really important leaders walk the talk and send visible messages around work and life priorities.”

 

Feeling comfortable talking to line managers

Keen to get a better understanding of its situation, HSBC carried out a global wellbeing survey. The bank is now collating the results, but initial findings highlight the crucial role of line managers in employee wellbeing.

“Colleagues who say their manager takes their wellbeing into consideration are less likely to feel stressed,” says David. “But our own research among Ability members found that only around half of employees would feel comfortable discussing their mental health with their line manager.”

A line manager who is open and airs his or her own vulnerabilities can help other people tell their stories. David recounts how he talked to a former boss about the impact of additional responsibilities on top of his normal workload.

“I said I was experiencing anxiety and he said, ‘Me too.’ Then we had an open conversation. He came across as a confident guy and someone you wouldn’t assume had mental health problems. We had a better, more open relationship as a result.”

 

Read other Voice articles on mental health by clicking on the related stories links below. 

Being constantly connected to the workplace can be incredibly draining. Creating space for an individual and giving them time to recover from the stresses of a project is important. 

JUSTIN BUCKTHORP, 360 HEALTH & PERFORMANCE

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