Employers should provide all line managers with training in mental health and wellbeing. That is the recommendation of the UK’s two leading health bodies, Public Health England (PHE) and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). Back in September they opened a consultation and published draft guidance which included recommendations for organisational and individual-level approaches to mental wellbeing in the workplace. It refers to the latest evidence showing that less than a third of managers have received training on mental wellbeing at work, which is a problem. Their final report is due to be published in a few weeks’ time on 2 March.
The guidance carries a central message which is that training is needed to equip managers with the knowledge, tools, skills and resources to improve awareness of mental wellbeing at work. It says it should improve employees’ understanding of and engagement in organisational decisions and the communication between managers and employees. Dr Paul Chrisp, director of NICE’s centre for guidelines is quoted saying: ‘Our new guideline has considered issues which were a problem before COVID-19 emerged and new issues which have presented themselves as a result of the pandemic. Further research is needed in this area, but providing managers with skills to discuss mental wellbeing improves the relationship between manager and employee so that they can identify and reduce work stressors.’ He adds this is a step employers can implement quickly without a huge amount of investment.
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: “We expect the final guidance when it comes out will deal with hybrid working and communicating with staff who are working from home. 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.”
The final report, ‘Mental wellbeing at work’, is due to be published on 2 March. Meanwhile, the health and safety regulator, the HSE, has published its annual ‘Summary Statistics’ report which covers the first full year of the pandemic, April 2020 to March 2021. We covered that last week in our programme ‘HSE report highlights need for ‘full package’ of mental health support’ with comment from Amy Hextell. That programme is available now for viewing from the Outlaw website.
- Link to HSE guidance on managing work-related stress