New report: Transforming the role of line managers

Louise Aston, Director, Wellbeing, discusses why the role of managers is essential to creating change in workplace culture where talking about mental health becomes normal. 

On 4th February, Business in the Community will launch our new report, ‘Transforming the role of line managers: a blueprint for unlocking employee mental wellbeing and productivity’. Following our previous reports which have shown why employers must tackle the culture of silence surrounding mental health, now we’re building the business case for supporting line managers’ wellbeing and enabling them to support the people they manage.

We’ve chosen to launch the report on 4th February as this is Time to Talk Day, a national awareness day which encourages people to have open conversations about mental health. It’s particularly significant as talking about mental health is exactly what we want line managers to do with their team members. After all, you can’t manage what you can’t talk about. However, many line managers do not currently feel equipped to discuss mental health issues with their team members. If we are going to ensure that they do, we need organisations to embed cultural change throughout their organisations which gives line managers the support they need – and line managers play a key role in doing this.

Senior leaders must ensure that managers have what they need to maintain their own wellbeing, as without this they will not be able to maintain the wellbeing of their team members.

Giving line managers a core understanding and literacy of mental health issues is vital to help them act confidently in identifying early signs of mental health issues and directing staff towards the right support. Employers can do this by offering line managers Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) training, a licensed training product, which can be accessed through qualified practitioners including Mental Health First Aid, Mind and Maudsley Learning. Courses can range from MHFA Lite, a three hour introductory course to a MHFA Standard two day training course. Business in the Community offers MHFA training as part of our wellbeing membership offer  and I would encourage any members who have not yet taken it up to do so.

However, MHFA training is not a magic bullet alone; and wellbeing needs to be embedded into organisational culture. Business in the Community’s Workwell model provides a strategic framework for embedding wellbeing into any organisation and covers the actions employers need to take to create an environment where employers can make informed, healthy choices. By improving support for line managers and all employees, in alignment with the Workwell model, employers can benefit from increased productivity.

Line managers are increasingly being squeezed in the middle, with pressure from above and below. More managers are experiencing stress-related ill-health and symptoms of psychological ill-health. Long hours form a significant part of this, with the average manager working 46 extra days a year and three in five managers expressing concern about the impact of long hours on their stress levels. Senior leaders must ensure that managers have what they need to maintain their own wellbeing, as without this they will not be able to maintain the wellbeing of their team members.

The role of line managers is essential to creating a change in workplace culture where talking about mental health becomes normal. This fundamental transformation will require a significant commitment from senior leaders – but it’s vital if we’re going to prevent more employees suffering in silence.