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WHO and ILO call for targeted workplace mental health support

Trish Embley tells HRNews about mental health training for managers involving actors

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  • Transcript

    Managers should be trained in how To prevent stressful work environments and support staff who feel distressed. That is the message from the World Health Organisation, the WHO, and the International Labour Organisation, the ILO, in joint publications on mental health at work. The UK’s Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) has urged employers to review their training programmes. We’ll consider what that training might look like.

    Both People Management and Personnel Today have covered this and report on the data behind it. It shows around 15% of working-age people have a mental health disorder at any point and, globally, around 12 billion workdays are lost annually as a result of depression and anxiety, costing the global economy nearly a trillion dollars. 

    The WHO’s guidance recommends that organisations take action to tackle risks to mental health in all its various forms. They recommend training managers to prevent stressful work environments and respond to workers in distress. They advise employers to incorporate better ways to accommodate the needs of workers with mental health conditions; propose interventions that support their return to work.

    So, let’s get some reaction to this from our Head of Client Training, Trish Embley who joined me by video-link from Birmingham to discuss the publications, and the mental health training she runs for clients. I put it to Trish that this guidance is helpful:

    Trish Embley: “Yes, this guidance is really helpful and I think for many years now, lots of employers have been doing mental health training and we’ve been working with lots of employers to do mental health training for managers and, of course, what is key is communication because it is difficult, to be honest, asking people to open up what are quite sensitive conversations and managers are concerned that they're not being intrusive, they're not saying the wrong thing. So, with our training, what's really useful is that we have this great partnership with a firm of actors that we've worked with for about 15 years now and in many areas, including mental health training for managers, we work with them. So we, the lawyer trainers, can talk about what you need to do, we can talk about great guidance available from MIND, how far they need to go in terms of reasonable adjustments but then, rather than just leave them and say well that's what you do now go and do it, the actors run ‘forum theatre’. This is really valuable because through forum theatre, without having to do any roleplay themselves, managers can suggest ways that these conversations are opened up, they see how those play out, some land well, some land not so well, and the actors do a great job of demonstrating that. So, by the end of the training session they walk away not only with a sort of checklist of what they need to be doing but also the practical skills on how to do it, how to have the conversations, the language to use, the things to avoid. So, between the two of us, I think it's  really useful and practical training.”

    Joe Glavina: “The new guidance makes specific reference to the changing world of work and takes account of the trend towards flexible and hybrid working. Thoughts on that.”

    Trish Embley: “Obviously, there are lots of benefits of hybrid working but one of the challenges is managers don't get those informal touchpoints with their employees, they don't get to observe. So pre-COVID we used to start off our training sessions with managers saying, okay, let's list the tell-tale signs that somebody in your team is, maybe, having problems with their mental health. So, without the ability to have that observation in the office it can be a challenge for managers and that's why I think that the training and the guidance needs to be adapted so that in the virtual world they can still see the tell-tale signs, the behavioural clues that they would look out for in virtual meetings. Now, the actors have done a great job of switching what used to be classroom based forum theatre to virtual training. So we tend to work with smaller groups because with virtual training, you don't want anyone switching their camera off or leaning into their phone or doing their emails. So small groups, so no one's got anywhere to hide, and we can facilitate the forum theatre in exactly the same way that we would have done in the classroom. The other thing, I think, that the actors have done very well is the scenarios that they are role playing will often involve a manager having a discussion with someone in a virtual meeting. So the training is set up very well to try and give managers the skills that they will need in that new hybrid working environment.”

    Those two reports are the WHO’s Guidelines on mental health at work and the derivative WHO/ILO policy brief. They are very helpful publications, in our view, with a lot of practical advice and examples of what you can do. We have put a link to both in the transcript of this programme. 

    - Link to WHO’s Guidelines on mental health at work
    - Link to derivative WHO/ILO policy brief

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