Health bodies push for mental health training for line managers

Out-Law News | 28 Sep 2021 | 8:57 am |

Trish Embley tells HRNews about recommendations from PHE and NICE for organisational and individual-level approaches to mental wellbeing in the workplace

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  • Transcript

    Employers should provide all line managers with training in mental health and wellbeing according to the UK’s two leading health bodies, Public Health England (PHE) and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). They have published draft guidance, which is now open for consultation, which includes recommendations for organisational and individual-level approaches to mental wellbeing in the workplace, employee engagement, and support in and outside the workplace. The guidance refers to the latest evidence showing that less than a third (30 per cent) of managers have received training on mental wellbeing at work, which is a problem.

    The CIPD’s People Management reports on this and quotes Dr Paul Chrisp, director of NICE’s centre for guidelines. He says mental wellbeing training for managers was a practicable step employers could implement and adopt quickly without a huge amount of investment. 

    Louise Aston, wellbeing director at Business in the Community, makes a good point. She says managers need to know how to do this in a remote or hybrid way so that managers are able to pick up on social, emotional and behavioural cues in a virtual setting. She says ‘At a time with more employees returning to work, managers also need to be supported to facilitate effective return-to-work conversations with employees who may be suffering from anxieties’. As a reminder of the price of getting this wrong, the report cites a report by Deloitte published in January last year that estimates that poor mental health among employees costs UK employers between £42bn and £45bn each year. 

    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 this report 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: “In the People Management article, Trish, Louise Aston talks about the importance of managers being able to communicate effectively with staff who are working from home working remotely, or hybrid working. Thoughts on that.”

    Trish Embley: “Yes I think the article made a great point. 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.”

    That draft guidance which has been published by PHE and NICE is called ‘Mental wellbeing at work’ and is open for consultation until 29 October. If you want to comment, and put your own views forward, you can do that from NICE website. We have put a link to that in the transcript of this programme.

    - Link to PHE/NICE guidance and consultation