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Managers need to speak confidently to staff about mental health

Vicki Cockman, Workplace Lead - Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England

Managers have a pivotal role in supporting employee health and wellbeing and should be a key source of support for those experiencing mental health problems at work. With the Centre for Mental Health forecasting that an estimated half a million more people will experience a mental health difficulty over the next year as a result of the global Covid-19 pandemic, Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England believe it is more important than ever that managers feel empowered to start conversations with employees about mental health and wellbeing.

Poll results on manager confidence around mental health collected during our summer webinar series revealed that 61% of employers feel that the pandemic has negatively affected the mental health of employees, yet 47% felt unconfident in starting a conversation about mental health. This is further supported by research conducted by the Chartered Management Institute (CMI), which highlights that whilst a majority of managers are supporting staff with mental health issues, only half have received any relevant training.

We believe that giving managers the tools to support themselves and their teams is crucial, which is why we have launched the Mental Health Skills for Managers course. The training course will provide managers with the practical skills and confidence to have effective face to face or remote conversations with staff about mental health and wellbeing.

As we continue to transition to remote working and/or dramatically revised workplace practices, employees face a myriad of challenges that may impact their mental health and wellbeing. Challenges might include being furloughed, managing work and care responsibilities, experiencing bereavement and anxiety about their own and others’ health, concern about job security, and returning to the physical office. And as many organisations shift their priorities to adapt to the current climate, news ways of working are evolving rapidly, which is proving to be anxiety-inducing for many employees.

With so many potential factors that could negatively impact employees’ mental health and wellbeing, it is important that managers feel equipped and empowered to embed a mental health and wellbeing focus in their everyday management style. If managers are able to have confident conversations about mental health, recognise when an employee might need support, and know how to signpost to internal and external services, the risk of presenteeism, absenteeism and staff turnover can be reduced.

As well as ensuring that their employees’ mental health and wellbeing needs are met, it is crucial that managers are able to recognise stressors in the workplace and look after their own mental health and wellbeing. Not only is this an opportunity to model best practice behaviour, but it is critical to ensuring that managers are not trying to pour from an empty cup. Against the current backdrop of extreme uncertainty and alongside the everyday stresses of leading teams and projects, managers are not exempt from experiencing poor mental health.

With the uncertainty that coronavirus brings, we cannot underestimate the negative emotional impact it will have on people. Empowering and equipping your teams to have effective conversations about mental health will help to embed a consistent approach to mental health and wellbeing, promoting healthy performance throughout the whole organisation now and in the future.


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