Right now, the world is facing a myriad of challenges. The cost-of-living crisis is creating new uncertainty on the tail end of a very challenging two years. It’s no wonder then that soaring inflation is affecting our mental health daily, just as much as it’s affecting our wallet.
As might be expected, these challenges are culminating in more mental strain, stress and anxiety for people as they worry about everything from the ensuing lay-offs we are seeing, to having noticeably less disposable income.
It’s not all doom and gloom. The good news is, we are seeing an increased awareness of mental health issues resulting in many organisations taking action to support employee mental health at work.
This is most commonly seen through the rise of EAPs, flexible working or other reasonable adjustments. And according to CIPD’s latest Health and Wellbeing at Work Survey, 70% of HR respondents agree that employee wellbeing is on senior leaders’ agendas.
Yet, while mental health might be at the top of senior leaders’ agendas, it isn’t necessarily translating into practical, tangible action.
The report mentioned above also found that well under half (38%) agree that managers are confident to have sensitive discussions and signpost people to expert help when needed, and even fewer (29%) that they are confident and competent to spot the early warning signs of mental ill health.
These are startlingly low statistics, and mirror exactly what we’re seeing in our roundtable discussions: line managers play a pivotal role in combatting poor mental health, but often lack the skills required to properly address it.
The business risk of mental health inaction
Consider this for a minute. In a hypothetical situation, if you own a company which involves physical labour, you’re required by law to make sure that your employees are trained to work the equipment safely. Otherwise, you’re liable if someone gets hurt by not being properly trained on how to safely use it.
The same goes for not equipping your line managers with the tools to spot declining mental health and acting appropriately. We know from experience that the failure to train line managers in mental health is detrimental to both employees and the business too. At Aurora, for example, we have worked with numerous clients where employee suicidal ideation has increasingly become a common occurrence before they eventually go to seek help.
By not taking action to address mental health at work, not only do you risk your employees feeling suicidal – something no one wants – but you can also open yourself up to legal proceedings.
For instance, it’s common knowledge that if an employee feels that their employer isn’t taking their mental health seriously, they can raise a grievance outlining their employer's misconduct on this front. If it isn’t dealt with seriously, employers can be liable for personal injury or stress at work claims if they don’t comply with their obligations.
Mental health isn’t just a “nice-to-have", it’s essential. In fact, the introduction of ISO 45003 last year laid the groundwork for long-term change in relation to mental health at work. This framework makes it clear that mental health is a safety issue at work, and that it’s part of an employer’s obligation to their employees. While it is yet to move beyond HR circles, large organisations have started to incorporate it, and we expect that it will soon be adopted by SMEs too.
Why line manager training is the solution
In this context, line manager training is essential because it can shift an organisation from taking a reactive approach to mental health, to a proactive one.
Instead of waiting for the worst to happen, which is typically when an employee burns out and goes on sick leave, line managers who have undergone training are proactive because they are equipped with the tools they need to support an employee before their mental health dramatically declines and goes beyond repair.
Training managers to have open conversations about mental health and wellbeing is proven to be an effective and pre-emptive way to intercept mental health issues at an early stage, before employees get to the burnout stage and their mental health takes a turn for the worse.
This is because line managers are often the first port of call for employees who are struggling with mental health and are not sure who to turn to in an organisation for help. They also have the authority to make adjustments for employees experiencing poor mental health. In this way, they can act as a ‘gatekeeper’ protecting them from any working conditions that present risks to their mental wellbeing.
The benefits of manager training are backed up by research. Research has found that employees of managers that have had the relevant mental health training have seen a reduction in anxiety, depression and stress, as well as an increase in greater overall wellbeing; which in turn significantly impacts organisational results.
Employees don’t always approach their managers before things start to get worse because they fear being seen as incompetent at work. Similarly, line managers can sometimes fear starting conversations about mental health in fear of making things worse or saying the wrong thing. Leadership development in the form of line manager training could easily resolve both concerns.
Burnetts Employment & HR and Aurora Wellness both strongly believe that employee wellbeing is crucial to achieving a happy and productive workforce. We continue to work together to help employers, line managers and team leaders improve employee mental health and to:
- accurately identify signs of chronic stress and low productivity in their direct reports, so that they can quickly and confidently address them before they significantly impact overall employee productivity and morale.
- navigate uncomfortable conversations with team members experiencing a wide range of life challenges such as divorce, menopause, financial worries, which can often exacerbate mental wellbeing issues, leading to poor performance.
- be aware of the legal implications and the risks to the organisation as well as them personally, should a claim be brought.
Working in partnership with Burnetts’ Employment & HR team, we will be bringing you some new, exciting Roundtable events in 2023 – so keep an eye out for further information! In the meantime, if you would like to find out more about how we can help you address any employee wellbeing concerns such as employee burnout, stress-related complaints and absences, or unexplained low productivity, book a consult call here and the Aurora team can help support your company’s employee wellbeing plans.