Employers should provide all managers with mental health training, health watchdog says

Draft guidance from Public Health England also says leaders need to be able to adjust the workload of staff who are struggling

Employers should provide all line managers with systematic support in mental health and communication skills training, according to recent recommendations by two UK health bodies. 

The recommendations that line managers receive specific training and support were a key part of new draft guidance released last week by Public Health England (PHE) and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice).

The aim of such training would be to provide managers with the knowledge, tools, skills and resources to improve awareness of mental wellbeing at work and employees’ understanding of, and engagement in, organisational decisions.

The draft guidance, which is open for consultation, also includes recommendations for organisational and individual-level approaches to mental wellbeing in the workplace, employee engagement, and support in and outside the workplace.

It suggested firms should consider a group approach for delivering mental health training which could be carried out either face to face or using an online format, citing a Deloitte report from January 2020 that estimated poor mental health among employees costs UK employers between £42bn and £45bn each year. 

Nice and PHE also cited the 2018 Business in the Community report, Mental Health at Work, which found that less than a third (30 per cent) of managers have received training on mental wellbeing at work.

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As well as giving managers the skills to facilitate conversations with employees about mental wellbeing concerns, Nice and PHE said there was evidence that manager training could help to reduce workplace stigma around mental health, and make managers more confident in identifying and supporting employees who may be at risk of poor mental health.

The recommendations also said managers need to be empowered to make adjustments to workloads to reduce stressors for employees as well as highlighting the value of peer-to-peer support for managers.

Dr Paul Chrisp, director of Nice’s centre for guidelines, said that recommending mental wellbeing training for line managers was a “practicable step” employers could implement and adopt quickly without a huge amount of investment.

“Even before the pandemic, the state of the nation’s mental health has been a topic of conversation at home, in the workplace and in the media,” he explained, adding that providing managers with skills to discuss mental wellbeing improves the relationship between manager and employee so that they can identify and reduce work stressors.

Kate Palmer, HR advice and consultancy director at Peninsula, said it was important staff felt comfortable raising concerns or issues.

“Creating a company culture of inclusion and open communication can be fundamental in maintaining an employee’s wellbeing,” she explained, and added that specifically training managers to identify early signs of emotional distress and reduced mental health was a “great” way of achieving this.

Louise Aston, wellbeing director at Business in the Community, told People Management that while managers do need to have the skills to communicate about mental health, they also need to know how to do this in a remote or hybrid way.

Examples of this, according to Aston, include training managers to pick up on social, emotional and behavioural cues in a virtual setting. 

“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,” she explained.